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Knoxville Farmacy finds a new home in Bearden, as seen Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

Knoxville News Sentinel

Bettina Hamblin, owner of Knoxville Farmacy, looked at nearly every place her customers suggested the business move: Hardin Valley, South Knoxville and many more. 

Her current lease on South Northshore Drive is difficult to afford, she said, and has clauses that keep her from providing table service and liquor. 

But just a few short weeks after asking customers for help and sharing her story with Knox News, Hamblin has the keys to the former Egg & I location on Kingston Pike, where she plans to start fresh. 

In a Bearden shopping center, the space has a kitchen bigger than the entire Northshore location and room for a bar that will serve a variety of craft cocktails. 

“Overwhelmingly, out of all the responses we got, it was Bearden, Bearden, Bearden,” Hamblin told Knox News. “One thing that we’ve always said was we want to be the neighborhood place. When you don’t want to cook dinner, this is where you go.” 

Bearden residents will have to cook at home for a while longer, though, unless they want to travel to Northshore. 

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Hamblin said she’s planning to open the restaurant in November but is continuing to pay month to month for her current space. 

“It’s all really up in the air right now,” she said. “We are trying to move as quickly as possible because what we don’t want to do is have to close over there and just not be anywhere.”

Starting small before opening its doors

The Northshore restaurant is offering only takeout and curbside during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hamblin imagines the new kitchen will be ready by early November, which would allow staff to continue these services.

Guests also would be able to sit outside on the patio in Bearden once the restaurant opens. 

“We have four tables outside,” Hamblin said about her current location. “I don’t know if that’s a patio or not.”

The new patio is much larger and will have QR codes on the table that allow guests to order and pay without ever interacting with a server. Hamblin hopes the restaurant can open its dining room some time after Thanksgiving. 

An ‘open, fun kind of energy’

Once the dining room is open, the upgrades should be obvious. The new space is 3,700 square feet, compared with the 1,500 on Northshore. 

The drop ceiling, carpet and red walls in the Bearden location “is not our vibe,” Hamblin said. 

“We’re just going to white it out,” she said. “We’re going to paint everything white. Ceiling to floor is just going to be really light and bright in here. … We really want to keep that open, fun kind of energy we have in our tiny space (at the new location).” 

Different spaces will be sectioned off, including a dining room, which will be separated with sliding glass doors that can make it a public or private space. 

“We’re really excited about that because I come from catering,” Hamblin said. “So that’s kind of like a sweet spot for me — to be able to have those bigger dinner parties inside the restaurant.” 

A ‘cool opportunity’ to think ahead

Some windows will be turned into doors and others will be renovated so they can open, helping with ventilation during COVID-19 and beyond. 

“Every restaurant right now, including ourselves, is trying to figure out how to do business in COVID in their space,” Hamblin said. “And so, we have this really cool opportunity to say we’re actually building a space out during COVID. What does that look like?”

Hamblin believes things will never quite go back to the way they were before, and she’s preparing the space to accommodate people’s changing preferences. 

Tables in the Northshore location are about 18 inches apart, she said. That will change, especially with all the extra space. 

But more space also means more money must be spent to fill the restaurant with tables and equipment for the large kitchen. The Northshore location only has one fryer and one griddle. 

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“We need like three fryers to do what we do, but my team has figured it out,” Hamblin said. “For us, it’s not a matter of being able to produce more as far as quantity.

“There are so many things that we’ve wanted to do with our menu in the past, but we’re like: ‘There’s no way we can do that. Nothing else can go in the fryer.’ ” 

Connecting with food, adding booze

Hamblin said the farm-to-table menu is filled with fresh takes on Southern comfort food. She believes food and nostalgia go hand in hand. 

Lasagna is a summer special at the Farmacy and a dish her daughter loves Hamblin to cook. Hamblin has distinct memories of learning to cook lasagna with her family. 

“For us, we connect to food that way and making it new for people again,” she said.

One thing that will be completely new at the Farmacy is the bar. 

“A main position that we need to fill is we’re really looking for the right person to help us curate the bar since we don’t have a bar program,” she said. “We’re building this from scratch, and we want to take the same care with that that we do with the food.” 

She envisions the Farmacy name leading to fun, themed drinks with different tonics and tinctures. 

Hamblin also will be looking to hire other employees, from back-of-the-house staff to hosts. 

People ‘went the extra mile’ to help

Leaving Northshore will be hard for Hamblin; she lives just about a three-minute drive from her business. 

“You spend three years really building up your base, and any time you relocate you kind of have to start over again,” she said. 

But business owners in the shopping center eased her mind when they reached out and suggested the location. 

“The landlord was really, really pulling for us and really went the extra mile to make it doable,” Hamblin said. 

She doesn’t want her customers to feel like she’s leaving them; she believes she didn’t have a choice in the matter. The two locations are roughly 15 minutes apart. 

Hamblin said the restaurant hopes to be open every day of the week in the new location; it’s currently closed on Mondays. She also hopes to extend dinner hours on weekends now that more alcohol will be available. 

“We know what we need because we’ve been doing this for three years,” she said. “And now we can design a space that’s perfectly suited for what we’re doing.” 

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