John Shearer: Remembering Pat Rose, Saluting Bojangles’ 40th, And Saying Goodbye To Pearle Building, Mojo Burrito And Krystal Chili

Wednesday, June 29, 2022 - by John Shearer

As was in the news, former Chattanooga Mayor Pat Rose died on May 30 at the age of 91. But I finally went back and found an article I wrote on him more than 20 years ago on June 21, 1998, for the old Chattanooga Free Press.


It was part of an ongoing series I was doing on well-known Chattanoogans, including former mayors, and I remember I enjoyed talking with him.

I called him up after he had retired from being mayor and later the city public utilities commissioner, and he came over to the paper located where the Times Free Press is now and before it was remodeled.


I recall that he was tall, and he also went around and shook hands with several people in the newsroom as I got ready to interview him. It quickly became obvious he was not a shy person but had a natural charisma and charm that comes in handy in politics. 


He was like a goodwill ambassador, and most locals seemed to like him and how he represented the city in his personal dealings. I once heard longtime Free Press reporter J.B. Collins remark that if you wanted to see how a mayor of a city is supposed to act, emulate Pat Rose.


I recall that I started interviewing him next to my desk in the large open newsroom – which at the time had many desks but no cubicles – but someone suggested we go into the newer boardroom/meeting room, which had been the late publisher Roy McDonald’s old office.


It probably seemed a more dignified place to interview a former mayor than pulling up someone else’s chair, and I am glad the person, whom I believe was assistant city editor Kenny Sloan, suggested that.


When we went in the room, I asked him a few questions about his career, and he thoughtfully answered them in a sincere and concise manner without giving me canned answers. He also seemed focused strictly on me. It was a skill people with natural charisma in a group are not always able to do one on one.


He told me he had been reared on a farm in Rockmart, Ga., a few miles outside Atlanta with his grandparents and mother, who later remarried his father. He came to Chattanooga as assistant city traffic engineer in the early 1960s. He became public works commissioner in 1969 when Mayor Ralph Kelley took on the less stressful job of federal bankruptcy judge, and Commissioner A.L. Bender moved up to mayor. 


He was elected public works commissioner in 1971 and then served as mayor from 1975-83. Unlike other mayors, he came back and was elected commissioner of public utilities in 1987 and served until the City Council form of government with district representation was enacted by federal court order in 1990.


Mayor Rose told me during the 1998 interview that he never envisioned himself as a politician, but that he missed parts of holding elected office, although not the politicking.


“It was one of the greatest opportunities a person could hope for because you’re so involved in every segment of the community,” he said. “That’s what you miss. I considered it a real privilege to serve. It was a rare opportunity, which I very much appreciated.”


He said the mayoral accomplishments he was most proud of were helping get the C.B. Robinson Bridge built, developing the former state of Georgia property downtown where the Tallan and Krystal (UBS) buildings and public library were built, expanding the sewer lines and Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant, and pushing for the preservation of the Walnut Street Bridge.


“It just seemed like it would have been a shame to tear it down,” he said of the bridge.


One business that opened in Chattanooga during Mayor Rose’s time as mayor, although he likely did not spend as much time trying to secure it as later political leaders did the Volkswagen plant, was Bojangles.


The fast-food eatery made its Chattanooga debut 40 years ago this spring. Do you know where the first one was located here? It was at 4701 Hixson Pike. On April 29, 1982, that restaurant was opened by the then-5-year-old Charlotte-based firm, and it remains in operation in 2022.


Writing the story about its opening for the Chattanooga Times was a younger Dave Flessner, who 40 years later is still a business reporter for the Times Free Press. He said the eatery’s main menu items at the time included Cajun-style chicken, (dirty) rice and beans, homemade biscuits and gravy, corn on the cob, and country ham.


Within a few weeks, another Bojangles had opened at 3399 Amnicola Highway, followed by ones at 4152 Ringgold Road and 3552 S. Broad St.


The number of local Bojangles locations has contracted and expanded over the years under different corporate and franchise operators. The ones on Hixson Pike and Ringgold Road are believed to be the only two still operating as Bojangles at their original sites and in their original red brick buildings. The newer Bojangles stores feature upwardly arching side walls at the top.


I vividly remember when Bojangles opened on Hixson Pike, and I first became interested in it for its sausage biscuits. I was working at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club during the summer of 1982 while home from the University of Georgia, and I would stop by there and get a couple of sausage biscuits and a Coke on my way from my home in Valleybrook several times.


I was a late riser at that time, and it was easier and more convenient to stop by and pick up something on the way to work. Besides, I made bad fried eggs at home. I know I heartily ate the biscuits, although the second one might have gone down a little slower.


Of course, it was not exactly like a yogurt, fruit and oats bowl breakfast. I would also usually have something like a hamburger and fries at the club during my lunch break, so I was not exactly nicknamed Mr. Fruits, Fiber and Vegetables. 


I later lived for eight years in my 20s and early 30s in a duplex directly across from the Hixson Bojangles and would carefully walk cross the street and get something to eat usually on Sunday morning, my only off day during the week from my job at the Free Press. 


I would continue to eat there over the years, being especially attracted to items like cinnamon biscuits and chicken strip supremes, both of which were not offered in 1982. But I would never forget stopping by the drive through as a college student!


Congrats to them, and I wish I could help solve the universal problems of finding fast food or other restaurant workers these days, not to mention airline pilots. Robots anyone?


Also opening during Mayor Rose’s term, but no longer able to experience any anniversaries, was the old Pearle Vison Center building at 5226 Highway 153 between the Northgate Mall entrance and Hamill Road.


In recent days, the building that had dated back nearly 45 years and was later a cell phone store was quickly leveled to make way for another 7-Eleven convenience store. A 7-Eleven “coming soon” sign had been out there for several days, so passersby knew the old Pearle building’s days were likely numbered.


7-Eleven has just re-entered the Chattanooga market in the last year or two after being gone for decades.


According to an article at the Chattanooga Public Library, Pearle had opened the store in that building in November 1978. Mayor Rose was not on hand for the ribbon cutting, but Hixson resident and Public Utilities Commissioner Jim Eberle and Miss Chamber of Commerce Judy Sawyer were along with Pearle officials.


At the time, Pearle already had stores at 5400 Brainerd Road and 103 Chickamauga Ave.


The Hixson store remained open until the early 2000s, when it closed and Voicestream Wireless (later T-Mobile) began using that building.


Pearle had remained open at Brainerd Road after the Hixson store closed, but today the only local Pearle Vision center is found at Hamilton Place Mall.


Another business going through a transition – and a sad one for me – has been Mojo Burrito. For some reason Chattanooga – like a lot of places -- seems obsessed with craft breweries, whisky bars and ale houses. Those places also usually serve food under a chef with an interesting story of being trained somewhere a time zone or two away and who has a new way of preparing asparagus.


Hats off to those stepping out and trying to fulfill such dreams by starting or overseeing part of such an operation. That is the American way and I admire their courage and gumption.


Unfortunately, I am more a basic person who loves the old meat and vegetable or basic hamburger eateries that have been around for decades. I still miss Morrison’s Cafeteria, the S&W Cafeteria, the Piccadilly Cafeteria from the 1970s and ‘80s, Fehn’s Restaurant, and Mom’s Italian Villa (chocolate mousse, anyone!).


My favorite local eateries recently have been Tony’s Pasta and Rembrandt’s in the Bluff View Art District, Mimi’s Deli in Hixson, Niedlov’s bakery on Main Street, and Mojo Burrito. Unfortunately, Mojo Burrito, which as recently as three or four years ago was blossoming in several locations and often had long lines to order food, announced plans to close its last store, the one in South Red Bank.


The exact reasons were not given, but problems brought on by the pandemic and finding enough employees were likely two of them. The store had even been remodeling the old Shoney’s farther north on Dayton Boulevard, so now there are two vacant stores on that street with the Mojo Burrito name in front of them.


After moving back to Chattanooga in 2017, I enjoyed eating at Mojo Burrito once every week or two. Sometimes I would eat with someone, but often I would just eat lunch by myself at the one on Dayton Boulevard. 


I started realizing you might find 10 or 15 people in front of you waiting to order through the line if you went around noon, so I would often go about 11 or shortly after. When I worked at the Country Club, I could not usually eat until after 1:30 as I have mentioned before, so I have tried to make up for that over the years in often eating an early lunch.


I would always get the store’s namesake – a Mojo burrito -- and found the taste a little better than that from the typical Mexican chain grills. I would always get mine made of ground chuck and was amazed that the meat had no Mexican seasoning, and the spices would come instead from the salsa or jalapeno peppers added. But it was always delicious.


I have always been interested in interviewing people locally who have been a success in some way, such as the late Mayor Rose, and I thought a few years ago it might be neat to interview owner Eve Williams about her success, especially as a woman entrepreneur. I had sent an email or message through the website a year or two before the pandemic started but was unable to reach her.


Anyway, I am sorry to see it go, and maybe it can start back up when we all figure out a way to get robots to do the lower-paying and tedious and not-as-respectful jobs – even though I have learned all work that helps people in a positive way is honorable. Best wishes to Ms. Williams and the former staff.


And if this food lover has not received enough bad food news on the Mexican-themed front, I went through the drive through of the Krystal restaurant on Hixson Pike a few days ago and ordered my usual meal of three cheese Krystals and a bowl of chili.  


The girl who took my order informed me that Krystal no longer serves bean chili like it has for decades, although it still has a meat chili for its hot dogs, fries and other items – and does have new items like hush puppies.


Although I realize 100-degree weather is a crazy time to order a bowl of chili, I am a creature of habit and was going to take it to my air-conditioned home to enjoy.


Needless to say, I was disappointed at the news and told her I would just come back another time. I got on the Krystal website to verify this fact about the chili with beans and mention my disappointment. I am hoping that maybe this can be like the new Coke incident of the mid-1980s, where officials realized they made a mistake in taking away classic Coke and brought it back. I have not heard back, but I have noticed the bowl of chili item is no longer listed on the menu, and it still was the day I first emailed the company.


I cannot tell you how many times I have enjoyed that meal of cheese Krystals and chili over the years. And OK, it probably does taste a little better in the fall and winter than in June or July!


Hopefully this is just a seasonal discontinuation of the item, but who knows.


I did notice another Krystal change in that the Hixson Pike restaurant near our house was painted gray where the white was, and I like that, I think. 


But as far as my disappointment about the apparent fates of Krystal bean chili and Mojo Burrito, I am still blue!


* * *

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