The Tomato Head, a two-store chain of “innovative eateries,” will close its doors to Maryville on Oct. 27 to move to its new location in West Knoxville.
Co-owners Mahasti Vafaie and Scott Partin plan to relocate the Maryville restaurant to the Gallery shopping center on Kingston Pike, replacing the Silver Spoon American Cafe’s old location. Despite the “Save the Maryville Tomato Head” Facebook groups and other protests, Partin said he knew that the level of sales in Knoxville would generate better profit for the business.
“We’ve always struggled to be profitable at the Maryville location,” he said. “The sales here are only about 60% of the level of our Knoxville store.” The Maryville Tomato Head has struggled to generate enough profit to pay for the cost to maintain itself within its five years of opening, as well as failed to secure a continuously fully employed staff.
“We know the potential for Tomato Head is up, but this one is down,” Partin said. “It just made more sense to take all the equipment and staff to a place that we thought we would have a better chance at making money.”
Partin said that factors like the West Town mall, traffic on Kingston Pike and the interstate contributed to the decision to move Maryville’s location to West Knoxville. “That little slice of the population that likes what the Tomato Head does will be bigger,” Partin said. “I think we have better name recognition in Knoxville than we do in Maryville. There are just more people there.”
Although the Foothills Fall Festival is the busiest and most profitable weekend of the year for the Maryville location, Partin said that the more numerous festivals in Knoxville would draw even more business.
“You know, we really like Maryville,” he said. “We like this building, we like the people that are here and we like the relationships we’ve built with long term customers, but at the end of the day, you have to have enough money to pay the bills,” Partin said. “We’re not young anymore, so we need to make decisions based on some business considerations, as well as the people’s considerations.”
Maryville College students are affected by the closing of the Maryville Tomato Head.
“I’m sad it’s leaving, because they have a unique selection of food,” said MC junior Robert Deighton. “I like going there.” “My mom and I go there all the time,” said junior Katie Spears. “I don’t know what we’ll do now.” The Tomato Head’s “farm fresh” and “don’t come out of a can” testaments are what attract many of its MC fans.
“I loved having a restaurant in town where I could find really good vegetarian food,” said sophomore Cicely Babb. “I’m really sad that we won’t have that in Maryville anymore.” “I love the Tomato Head because I’m used to eating local, farm-grown foods,” said junior Jenny Bivens. “There’s nowhere else to find food like that in Maryville.”
A significant number of MC students and alumni have been employed at the Maryville restaurant.
“About 12 to 15 students and graduates have worked here,” Partin said. “I also see professors and staff here to eat.” All members of the Maryville Tomato Head staff were invited to relocate to the new Knoxville location. Zachary Pickett, MC graduate and philosophy major, will be making the move, as well as the rest of the current staff at the Maryville site.
“Everyone we have as of today is planning on transferring,” Partin said. Partin said that he believes some people will attempt to make the trip from Maryville to Knoxville to eat at the restaurant. “We do understand people don’t want to commute just to eat,” he said. “They could eat at restaurants in their own neighborhoods.”
Some MC students share this concern. “I plan to drive to Knoxville to eat at their new location whenever I can, but it’s difficult with my class schedule to make it out there,” said Samantha Wilson, a junior. “I will miss Tomato Head being only five minutes away from the college,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to think of it taking 20 minutes to get to this restaurant down the street that we eat at all the time.”
Despite the distance to the Maryville Tomato Head’s new site, Partin encourages all MC students and the Maryville community to make the trek to eat there when they open their doors in November. “We love to feed people,” Partin said. “That’s why we’re here.”