Copper Cellar Corporation

Serving simple foods to happy customers throughout the Southeast
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Sean O'Reilly

Since 1975, Copper Cellar Corporation (CCC) has been serving quality, home-style foods in banquet-style and sit-down dining locations in Tennessee. Michael Chase established the business with a single location, the group’s first Copper Cellar Restaurant in Knoxville, Tenn. A few years later, he opened a second location in the same city. In 1982, the restaurant group grew again, adding Chesapeake’s Seafood House, a Maryland-style seafood eatery in downtown Knoxville.

The company continued to expand, adding chains, such as Calhoun’s, a family-oriented rib and barbecue restaurant; Cherokee Grill and Steakhouse, a mountain lodge inspired restaurant; and Smoky Mountain Brewery, providing tasty pub food and craft beers. The corporation also operates Calhoun’s Banquets and Copper Cellar Catering, serving family, social and corporate events.

Today, CCC operates 17 locations throughout eastern Tennessee, including a commissary that offers the group buying power and helps keep the kitchens stocked. Chase emphasizes quality, fresh foods and simple, tasty recipes. He employs 1,300 people, charged with providing customers with great food and a memorable experience. His management team includes Bart Fricks, COO, who shares Chase’s enthusiasm for food and service.

Keeping it fresh

“Our food is what really sets us apart from other restaurants and chains in our area,” Fricks explains. “We buy the best food and we make the best recipes. Mike is very passionate about food and we strive to buy the freshest, high-quality foods we can find. For our steakhouse operations, we buy prime beef. We have our own USDA butcher shop, where we cut all of our steaks and grind the beef for our burgers. Consistency and freshness are high priority in our kitchens.”

After working for several years in large casual dining chains, Fricks is proud to represent a business with such a strong stance on fresh food. “I’ve been with CCC for eight years,” he explains. “In that time I have learned just how good food can be. It is a juggling act every day to produce the type of quality we do in our kitchens and that is what people want. The locals like to know that the food is made here and the money stays in our town.”

Fricks and his crew try to source locally when possible. This summer, the restaurants served locally sourced corn as a fresh vegetable side. The company offers a lot of local produce in the summertime. Working with local farmers, CCC stocks the commissary with the ingredients for fresh salads.

Steady business

By focusing on food and customer service, CCC has been able to maintain a strong market share. The economic downturn in 2008 did have a negative effect on the business, particularly the catering division. “We faced some big challenges as people and businesses cut back on entertainment,” Fricks says. “We lost a lot of contacts, such as the people who were putting together company Christmas parties. Fortunately, we have seen a great recovery. Businesses are starting to grow again and we have a lot of opportunities opening up.”

The team is taking advantage of the market rebound by moving on new projects and initiatives that will help CCC continue to grow. The business recently purchased property on Cumberland Ave. in Knoxville, down the street from the original restaurant. Design and development is in the works for a new location.

CCC also continues to build on the brewery line. “We own four breweries where we brew all of our own beer,” Fricks elaborates. “These brew pubs supply all of our restaurants. We do everything from light lagers to India pale ales. We have stouts, wheat beers and seasonal brews that our brew masters create in small batches. Demand is increasing as craft beer becomes more popular. We don’t operate a production brewery. We bottle and keg in-house, selling our beer on draught in our restaurants and in growlers to go.”

Maintaining focus

In the coming years, Fricks and his crew plan to hold course. Customers frequently request geographic expansion, hoping for new locations out of state. “It’s flattering, but we need to stay close to home,” Fricks says. “Our size is manageable and we can maintain our service and consistency without sacrificing quality.”

The management team gauges performance on customer satisfaction, which Fricks explains is the most important factor. “We don’t spend time worrying about costs,” he says. “We think about how we operate and if our guests are happy. We have a lot of local regulars and we visit our restaurants daily. We ask them how things are. We also do online surveys.”

Fricks and his team try not to worry about the factors of profitability that are beyond their control. Instead, he worries about customers; as long as they are happy, management is happy. As the market recovers, Copper Cellar Corporation will continue to focus on good food and quality customer service.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Shoffner Mechanical Services
The Doug Jeffords Company