Destination. Mark Oldham seems irrevocably attached to the word, along with his wife, Sharon. It has drawn the couple to “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies.” Drawn them back would be more accurate.
While students at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Mark and Sharon acquired a love for the mountains and visited the Great Smokies whenever they got a chance. Over the years they returned for vacations, but never got around to visiting Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend.
Then the lodge and restaurant burned in November 2013. It just so happened that Oldham, who had been in the hospitality businesses providing support for hotels for 25 years, sold his Nashville-based company to a private equity firm a month later.
You might say he divested himself of his destination business. But not forever. It allowed the Oldhams to once again to indulge in their love of the mountains. In September 2014 they bought Dancing Bear and rebuilt the restaurant into Appalachian Bistro.
Thanks to award-winning executive chef Shelley Cooper, signature dishes like bacon-wrapped scallops and lump crab stuffed trout, and dedication to down-home elegance, Dancing Bear Lodge & Appalachian Bistro has inspired a 21st century interpretation of upscale mountain cuisine and culture. Nestled in the mountains, the lodge and bistro are becoming a destination in their own right.
And you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. The Travel Channel had a production crew in Townsend a couple weeks back to film an episode of “Food Paradise” that airs on the network at 8 p.m. on Sundays.
How will Dancing Bear be showcased as “Food Paradise” presents “must see food spots from across the country that offer unique dining experiences”? Perhaps as “Deep Fried Paradise,” “All You Can Eat Paradise,” “Hot and Spicy Paradise” or “Foods to Eat in Comfy Pants”?
None of those categories seem to capture the essence of what the Oldhams along with Cooper have created at Dancing Bear Lodge & Appalachian Bistro. Maybe this special cuisine and atmosphere (we’re inclined to call it unique) will inspire an entirely new category of food experience for “Food Paradise.”
The Food Network folks know what they’re doing, they’ll decide on that. Regardless, the resulting publicity will blend well with the Blount Partnership’s new marketing slogan, “Where Business Meets Adventure.”
One thing seems assured, after the 30-minute episode airs sometime from July to November — the date has yet to be announced — Dancing Bear & Appalachian Bistro will draw attention from across the nation. Viewers of “Food Paradise” with adventurous spirits and sophisticated appetites have a way of becoming visitors in search of destinations.
For Mark and Sharon Oldham, it seems that’s their destiny.