John Shearer: South Broad Publix Taking Shape Where Mt. Vernon, Pizza Hut Were

Friday, January 8, 2021 - by John Shearer

On the block where diners used to enjoy meals at the popular Mt. Vernon restaurant, customers will soon be able to get food to prepare their own meals.

In recent weeks, Morgan Construction Company has begun initial construction for the new Publix Super Market in the triangular block by South Broad and West 35th streets at the foot of Lookout Mountain.

Workers quickly toppled the old Mt. Vernon building as well as the former Pizza Hut and Mont Crest Art Gallery structures and a former church building that had been converted into an office.

While those sites had created plenty of dining and commercial history for that part of Chattanooga, officials hope some pleasant new memories are made as well in the 32,000-square-foot supermarket and adjoining retail space.

“It’s a very exciting thing for the overall community,” said Jack Webb of Crye-Leike Realtors, who negotiated a long-term ground lease on the property for former Mt. Vernon restaurant owners Jeff and Cindy Messinger. “We’re really excited.”

The supermarket – which to meet the wishes of local officials has seen its location moved around the lot like a loaf of homemade bread being prepared on a counter – is scheduled to open in the late summer or early fall of 2021. It is being designed by architect Peter Hiscutt of Alpharetta, Ga.

Mr. Webb believes the popularity of the Publix chain should create excitement among grocery shoppers in such areas as Lookout Mountain, St. Elmo, Chattanooga Valley in North Georgia, and Tiftonia/Lookout Valley – places where the closest Publix is several miles away.

“There are six or seven feeder areas,” he said, adding that the South Chattanooga residents and the nearby Chattanooga Christian School community are other potential shoppers.

With a growing number of residences in the downtown area, Food City – which currently has a store in St. Elmo -- has also announced plans to build a new store in the 1300 block of Broad Street closer to the heart of downtown.

Mr. Webb said the new South Broad Street Publix – which will be the eighth in the Chattanooga area – is being designed with extra landscaping. This is to take advantage of the enhancement efforts being done for the South Broad Street corridor and the expanding nearby Riverwalk.

“It is much nicer than any Publix,” the realtor said. “There will be some outdoor seating.” He said the latter will be for customers, including those from the Riverwalk, to be able to eat sandwiches and soups from the deli area.

Mr. Webb said the plans are coming to fruition seven or eight years after he began working with the Messingers to find a good use for the site after they realized they might be looking to get out of the restaurant business eventually.

About four years ago, they began talking with George Chase of Alliance Realty Services in Atlanta, who helps develop properties for Publix. That put in motion plans for the site that they think can spur additional amenities and improvements in that area.

“We are very excited about what this is going to do,” added Mr. Webb.

The Messingers are also pleased with the plans for the former restaurant site and don’t have any mixed emotions about their popular eatery no longer being there.

“There’s a season for everything,” said Cindy Evans Messinger, whose grandfather had helped start Mt. Vernon. “It’s such a positive for the community, and we are thrilled it is being used by another family-owned business.”

Jeff Messinger, whose now-healed health issues with his back and spine resulted in the closing of the restaurant in late 2017, is also excited to see a new chapter for the South Broad Street site.

“It was time. It was the right time,” said Mr. Messinger, who once worked at Lovemans. “When Publix came to us, we were ready.”

Mt. Vernon had opened in 1955 and was initially called Mt. Vernon Colonial Restaurant. It was started by Greek immigrant Gus Tombras and his wife, Myrtle, as well as their daughters, Natalie Humphreys and Helen Evans, and Helen’s husband, E.A. “Worry” Evans.

Mr. Tombras had worked his way to Chattanooga by way of New York and Jacksonville and operated several restaurants in Chattanooga beginning in 1905, including the White House, U.S. Café and Old Manhattan Café. The Manhattan was located on Market Street between 7th and 8th streets. He also operated the Curb Market Restaurant off 11th Street.

Longtime Chattanoogan Mr. Webb said the Mt. Vernon was a Chattanooga institution for years.

“It was an incredibly popular restaurant,” he said. “There were people who literally came from out of town just to stop there.”

The art gallery was opened by Sarah Temple Moore and Tom Moore in 1972 as one of the first in Chattanooga to market original art by local, national and international artists.

The Pizza Hut, which was corporately built and opened in 1974 on leased land the Mt. Vernon operators owned, was the largest one in Chattanooga, Mr. Messinger believes. It featured the unique-but-familiar red roof.

The Messingers added that they are looking forward to walking inside the new Publix as well and say they appreciate the help of Mr. Chase of Alliance Realty Services.

“Publix has been outstanding to work with,” Mr. Messinger said.

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