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Gatlinburg Now

Gatlinburg News, Opinion, and Wonder

Getting Back to Business As Usual in Gatlinburg

This post is going to focus on reminding people that, in fact, Gatlinburg is open for business. I have heard many people on social media being under the impression that it was completely burned to the ground. IT HAS CERTAINLY NOT! In fact, most businesses were not affected structurally by the fires, even though there was plenty of smoke damage that needed to be addressed by many of these establishments. The following businesses that I will mention here have not yet reopened but are planning on inviting guests once again in the near future.

Zoder’s Inn

There is a special place in my heart for this motel located on the Parkway. It was here that we spent our first two visits in Gatlinburg. The fires spared this long time Gatlinburg motel; however, it did sustain significant smoke damage as a result of the November fires that inundated the surrounding area. They are using this time to do a major cleaning and partial remodel of the complex, which features many rooms that overlook the stream that meanders through the property. According to their Facebook page, Zoder’s  is planning on reopening in the Spring, so if you have reservations, you may want to contact them to check on its status.

El Sonador

This restaurant was featured in one of my recent posts as one I would like to visit. Sadly, the fires damaged this establishment, but fear not, they are planning on a reopen scheduled for the Spring. This is a popular Mexican restaurant that the locals have been fawning over since they opened. All accounts say that is truly authentic Mexican food. Located on the East Parkway, they offer live entertainment, a patio, and a brief respite from the bustle of the Parkway. We would love to come here in mid-April if they can be open by then, but June looks like a better possibility. Check out their Facebook page here or their website for updates when they become available.

Gatlinburg Sky Lift

This has to be the most improbable of all the reopenings due to the fact that the mountain it sits on was completely engulfed in flames. Although they have not yet set a reopen date, the Sky Lift also has plans to expand. The gift shop at the top was a total loss, and this will be rebuilt along with the addition of a pedestrian bridge, zip lines, and canopy trails located at the top of Crockett Mountain. A short summary of this story was written by a Knoxville television reporter and can be found in the link here. The Sky Lift has been a signature attraction in Gatlinburg for many years, and this is welcome news for visitors and the tourism industry here.

Alamo Steakhouse

Another restaurant that we were wanting to visit was completely destroyed in the fire, but the owner — Kelly Johnson, of Johnson’s Family of Restaurants — endeared herself to her employees and the public by announcing she would pay the employees their full salary for the next year. This family of restaurants owns nine in the area: Mad Dog’s Creamery, Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que, (a favorite of ours) and Big Daddy’s Pizzeria (another good one). This was one of the better stories to come immediately after the fires ground business to a halt a few months ago. Needless to say, I highly recommend you go to their other restaurants as they are working on a complete rebuilt to this particular one. No date for a re-opening has yet been set, but the kindness these owners displayed is not publicized enough nowadays, and I will applaud them and support them by continuing to visit their establishments and be among those that come to their new and improved Alamo Steakhouse in Gatlinburg.

I hope you gained some insight on the status of these businesses, and I certainly would encourage you to keep an eye on them to see when they are officially set to open. I also would love your input on any other businesses whose situation has you uncertain, and I will find that out for you as quickly as possible. Thank you as always for checking out my blog for the latest Gatlinburg happenings, tips, and other tidbits, and I welcome any comments. See you next time!

5 Options for Choosing Local Instead of Chain Businesses in Gatlinburg

Sometimes the choices can be a bit overwhelming when you are searching for a place to eat in Gatlinburg. This may result in you getting a bit comfortable with the places you normally stop and visit in your day-to-day busy lifestyle. I would like to steer you toward making decisions that will help the local business owner in town and give the local economy a boost, as well. Here are five businesses that will aid in that cause, instead of visiting the familiar chain establishments.

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Chain: Pizza Hut

Better Option: Best Italian

Sure, we all love Pizza Hut when it comes to good pizza — and Gatlinburg has one right on the Parkway — but I would like you to try Best Italian, instead, when you are visiting town. Best Italian has two locations: one in the Elks Plaza, and one directly off the Parkway. We have not had a better pie in Gatlinburg than here, and we are frequent pizza eaters, so this comes as high praise. They have plenty of good Italian dishes, as many of locals can attest to, but our standards are the Garlic Rolls — which come served with a generous dusting of parmesan, and dipped in a small pool of olive oil — and, of course, their pizza. We ordered a large extra cheese pizza last time, and they were VERY generous with the cheese. Let’s just say this is one of our first stops when we arrive in Gatlinburg.

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Chain: McDonald’s

Better Option: Old Dad’s General Store

I know what you’re thinking; why would I want to go to a convenience store, instead of a place where I know what I want every time. I’m glad you asked because Old Dad’s is more than just a general store, it boasts a grill inside that serves a good hearty breakfast too. You can have everything from a bacon egg and cheese biscuit to a fried green tomato BLT — all for breakfast at a reasonable and comparable price to McDonald’s. They also have a super friendly staff that welcomes you, even if you’re just in to pick up a newspaper.

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Chain: Dunkin’ Donuts

Better Option: Donut Friar

There are plenty of Dunkin’ Donuts scattered across the country, but there is only one Donut Friar. They are located in the Village in Gatlinburg, and they have the absolute best donuts I’ve ever eaten. Opening at the pre-dawn 5 a.m. hour, they serve the early riser and stay open until the evening to accommodate the day crowds. My wife isn’t a big donut eater, but I’ve managed to convert her by introducing her to one of my favorites, the Chocolate Chipper donut. Even with an abundance of breakfast places in town, here you can grab a quick bite and take some back to your hotel room.

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Chain: Texas Roadhouse

Better Option: Cherokee Grill

I will be one of the first to admit that Texas Roadhouse has some mighty tasty steaks, along with their rolls, but there is one place in Gatlinburg that has them beat, in my opinion. We didn’t discover Cherokee Grill until our second trip, and it didn’t take long for us to wonder why we didn’t go the first time. The steaks and the grilled chicken are AMAZING! But I don’t want you to think they don’t have good side dishes. Their Neva’s Potatoes is a twice-baked potato that’s full of flavor, and their spinach mac and cheese hits the spot too. Also on the menu are crab cakes, trout, and shrimp for the seafood lover. Their atmosphere gives off an upscale feeling, but don’t be put off by that, they are most certainly a casual restaurant that welcomes all families. It is our favorite dinner splurge on our vacation, and I highly recommend you try them.

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Chain: Starbucks

Better Option: Coffee and Company

Starbucks is one of the largest chains in the country and Gatlinburg is represented with one, but there is one coffee shop in town that you may not see or be aware of as a visitor. Coffee and Company has been in business in Gatlinburg since 1993, and they are a tiny shop in the Village that is a left turn out of The Donut Friar away. The first time I arrived here, I walked into the open door, even though it wasn’t quite their posted open time, and I got a Coffee 101 lesson when I told the owner I wasn’t sure what to get. I settled on a basic Shot in the Dark, which has an espresso shot, and I walked away not only satisfied with my pleasant tasting coffee, but I was happy that someone cared enough to help me with deciding on the perfect cup for me, which it was.

I hope that you found this a helpful read. I know how difficult it can be to veer off from your normal routine and try something different; however, when you are on vacation, I strongly believe that this is the time to try new things and knowing you’re helping small businesses can give you a special feeling. In our case, it keeps us coming back to Gatlinburg year after year.

 

My Story of How and Why Our Love for Gatlinburg Has Changed Us

As another year comes to a close, I want to reflect on a time when my mind wasn’t consumed with Gatlinburg, and the impact the town and surrounding area now has on my family. Just six years ago we were planning our very first trip to the tourist town, and while we were excited, we didn’t quite realize what was to come. The following is the story of how it came to fruition and why it keeps us coming back.

The year was 2010, and we were overdue for a real vacation. The trips to Columbus every October for our anniversary were fine, but they could hardly be considered a getaway vacation. It was merely a chance to do some Christmas shopping before the big seasonal rush, and since Lima, Ohio is not a big shopping mecca, we could get a lot accomplished here as it is just an hour and forty-five minute drive. Needless to say, it was not going to cut it for us anymore

My wife and I decided to get some vacation ideas at the local AAA office in Lima on a day we were both off from work. Our first ideas for the trip were Hershey, PA. and Washington D.C.; we aren’t big city people, so places like Las Vegas, New York City, and Chicago didn’t appeal to us — simply put, we wanted somewhere that was within reasonable driving distance, like six hours. Well, wouldn’t you know, the first thing I saw when I stepped inside the building was a Sevierville brochure with Dolly Parton on the front. That immediately made me think that Gatlinburg was close; and that I knew of some people that were married there. Since it was about a six or seven hour drive — and we thought seeing the mountains would be cool — we had our destination settled.

We were just giddy with excitement when the time came in June 2011 of our first real vacation since 2002. The drive — while seeming to be a bit long — wasn’t that terrible, the payoff was gazing at those Smoky Mountains for the very first time on the outskirts of Knoxville. It truly does take your breath away, as it is a stark contrast to the flat terrain of my home state.

It is difficult to really describe the feeling of being in those mountains and taking your very first hike there. One of our first hikes was to Grotto Falls, and it was amazing to get to walk behind the Falls after the mile and a half trek. The idea of a vacation took on a whole new meaning for us in those very moments. Some people’s idea of a vacation is stimulation and information overload: loud gaming sounds, bright lights, pounding music, roaring crowds. Don’t get me wrong, you can find a little of that in Gatlinburg at times; but the difference here is that you can take yourself out of these situations and into your own peaceful little utopia that you thought only existed in your dreams.

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Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

My love for Gatlinburg runs deeper than the Mountains of East Tennessee. There is a certain kind of genuine kindness that is on display with the people here; a kind that I don’t normally sense at home. Whether you are walking into a restaurant, or any small business in the area, you feel like you are being welcomed into their home; a place where you feel like a family member that you haven’t seen in a while. I have come to adore this Southern hospitality, as I believe it to be tangible; it is a feeling like no other, one that I would like other visitors to feel, which is why I’ve started this blog and connected with like-minded people on Twitter over it. Twitter has been valuable, since it has led me to meet people that make their home here with their own local business; here I can thank them by making purchases to support them and telling them I’ll see them again next time, which is never soon enough.

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The front of a shop in The Village

I wouldn’t be doing my love for Gatlinburg justice if I didn’t talk about something else there that is near and dear to my heart — the food. Yes, that’s right, you heard me. The food is excellent and I’m not afraid to say it loudly and proudly about a tourist town. Some may say it’s overpriced — wrong! The only thing that reminds you it’s a tourist town is the tax, which is around 10%. Not only do they have better pizza here (Best Italian), they also have better steak (Cherokee Grill) than my hometown offers. Of course you have to mention breakfast in Gatlinburg, and each of them offers some excellent, jaw-dropping, and belt-popping meals. I can remember my first experience with eating these foods as memorable, wanting to come back and wishing I could re-create the feeling upon returning home — a feeling on which my family agrees.

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Healthy Mountain Waffle from Crockett’s Breakfast Camp

All of these reasons combined are why my thoughts are with this place every single day when I work, when I have downtime, or when we discuss what we should do on our next trip. As long as I live here in Lima, Ohio, this will not change, and it will also not lead us to make plans to travel anywhere else on vacation. It is our perfect and ideal vacation.

4 Restaurants in Gatlinburg I Want to Visit (But Haven’t)

There is an ever-growing list of restaurants in Gatlinburg that I haven’t visited, but are on my radar to visit in the future. These restaurants have received my attention through social media, Trip Advisor, and by talking to the helpful locals, who know a thing or two about good food in their beautiful hometown. The rest of this post will focus on the businesses that I am anxious to visit.

Mountain Lodge Restaurant

I have to admit I almost stopped here for lunch on my solo trip last August, but I reluctantly nixed that plan. This is a popular place that gets a little busy at times, but doesn’t get tons of tourist traffic, since they are located a few miles outside of Gatlinburg. They are your typical breakfast and lunch only business, closing in the early afternoon hours and serving up daily specials with atypical prices in a tourist location; more reason the locals love this place. They are also a top ten Gatlinburg restaurant, according to Trip Advisor.

Three Jimmy’s

This restaurant was recommended by someone at my work that visits Gatlinburg fairly regularly. She and her husband ate here and were impressed by their portions and tasty food and said I should go. Actually, I have passed this restaurant on my visits to the Arts and Crafts Community — on the corner of Glades Rd. — and I am tempted to pay them a visit based solely on how good it smells driving past, and I am not even talking about the mountain air. Three Jimmy’s is a casual restaurant with pizza, burgers, steak, chicken, and ribs; so basically, you get a little of everything here, and the reviews say it is worth a visit, so I will plan on it.

The Peddler

If any restaurant can make the claim as “a tradition” to describe it, then by all accounts, The Peddler lives up to this distinction. This is your traditional local steak restaurant that’s been in business for forty years and counting. Recommended by the same co-worker, this establishment also has a salad buffet, but the appeal is the atmosphere, and the employees carting out the steaks before ordering, so you can choose your own cut of steak you want to eat. It’s a bit pricey, but customers say it makes for a great romantic spot to have a quiet and satisfying meal; high on my priority list of places to eat, located in Gatlinburg by the River.

El Sonador

Many people say it is hard to find good Mexican in Gatlinburg; in fact, many others say good Mexican doesn’t exist here at all. My family and I visited Loco Burro last June, and we were not overly impressed — not enough to return. However, I had a conversation with Lori — the owner of Farmhouse Home Goods, located at the Covered Bridge on Glades Road — and she highly recommended this place as THE place in Gatlinburg for good Mexican food. Along with authentic Mexican, they also provide live entertainment and a scenic outdoor patio for customers to enjoy. They are a short drive from downtown, located on the East Parkway away from the bustle of tourists. We plan on trying No Way Jose’s on our next visit, but won’t hesitate to come here if they disappoint.

That is my short list of restaurants in Gatlinburg that I am itching to try, so if you the reader has tried any of these businesses, and want to impart your wisdom on them, feel free to explain in the comments why or why not I should pay these restaurants a visit. Thank you for reading and I will return soon for more Gatlinburg-related topics.

November Events in Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg will soon be making the transition from Fall to Winter in November with a busy slate of events. The holiday season will kick off soon whether you or Mother Nature is ready for it or not. The calendar will not wait for it, so here is a few of the events you won’t want to miss next month.

Winter Magic Kickoff and Chili Cookoff

This 27th annual event signals the start of the winter season in Gatlinburg, and it kicks off on November 9 from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be plenty of chili cooks on the street eager to claim the prize for best chili in three different categories: People’s Choice, Best Apron, and Best Booth Presentation. Tickets for the chili sampling are just $10 per person so I recommend purchasing if you will be attending, even though it is free to just wander through.

During this time the ceremonial lighting of the three million display lights will occur. Also, country music recording artist Tara Thompson will perform as part of the winter kickoff celebration downtown. Winter Magic is a major part of tourism in Gatlinburg with unemployment dropping drastically over the 25 year period of the event, and tourists flocking into town to see the wonderful displays of lights that illuminate this mountain tourist town. Tourists can also take rides on the trolley from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening to see the entire display all the way until the end of January. Tickets for the trolley tour are just $5. This is a can’t miss for the visitor staying during this time.

Veterans Day Celebration

Gatlinburg will be honoring our nation’s service members on November 11 at 11 a.m. This is an outdoor event held outside the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies Plaza. The event — held every year since 2000 — takes the time to honor what these brave men and women have done to keep us safe and protected in times of conflict.

Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts Show

The Gatlinburg Convention Center will host the many artisans with their art to display from November 22-27. Many of these craftsmen and women are from the Arts and Crafts Community in Gatlinburg, and they will be back here in downtown — as they do most every season — to display their original creations; this time the theme will center around Thanksgiving. The hours the Convention Center will be open is displayed on the Gatlinburg home page here.

Festival of Trees

Located at the WL Mills Conference Center on Historic Nature Trail is the Festival of Trees. There will be plenty of crafts — and, of course, trees that are beautifully decorated. This event takes place on November 22 and runs through the 27th, so bring the kids to see not only the display of Christmas trees, but the jolly old fellow himself, Santa Claus.

There is always an abundance of fun activities ongoing in Gatlinburg; many of which I haven’t mentioned in this post, but these are the biggest draws in what figures to be a very busy holiday season. I hope you get the chance to see to some of these events in November, so keep Gatlinburg in mind for a visit. Happy travels and enjoy!

October Events in Gatlinburg

Yes, it is that time of year again in Gatlinburg.

Fall is fast approaching, and you can bet the crowds will be appearing in the next few weeks in anticipation of the beautiful colors that adorn The Great Smoky Mountains this time of year. In addition to this wonderful natural event, there are plenty more events scheduled in October to entertain and gratify the tourists flocking to the area. Here are the list of activities for the whole family to enjoy.

Craftmen’s Fair

Beginning October 6 at the Gatlinburg Convention Center and lasting until October 23, the Craftmen’s Fair opens to nearly 200 booths featuring the Smoky Mountains’ finest craftsmen and women, in addition to live music from country, gospel, and bluegrass artists. This is a great way in interact with some amazingly talented and creative people, as they will be selling some of their creations on site and doing live demonstrations too. Tickets are just $7 for adults and children under 12 are admitted free. To see more details on this event check out their website at www.craftmensfair.com

Octoberfest

This has become an annual event dating back to the 1980’s at Ober Gatlinburg ski resort. For 38 days they are celebrating the German tradition that goes back 206 years. There will be plenty of German folk dancing, sing-a-longs, yodels, and daily shows and performances for guests to enjoy. Of course, no Octoberfest is complete without some traditional German Bier, schnitzels, wurst, sauerkraut, and pretzels for the hungry visitor who wants to sample some of Germany’s finest foods.This event has already begun and lasts until October 30. For more information go to www.obergatlinburg.com

Shocktober

You won’t want to miss these special events located inside the Arcadia building underneath the Space Needle in Gatlinburg. The hosts of the Impossibilities Show at the Iris Theater — Chris Collins and Erik Dobell — will bring their brand of magic and mystery in October. Now I am not sure what these two will have up their sleeves for the Halloween season, but I can assure you, there will be plenty of surprises and scares in store for those who dare to purchase tickets for the show. You might want to keep your head on a swivel for anything else sinister that could happen inside the arcade as well. Visit www.shocktober.com if you don’t like surprises.

These are just a few of the happenings going on in Gatlinburg in October and presently. Hotels are being booked fast so if you want to be a part of the fun, you may want to get cracking now for your plans to visit. Remember, there is also live music at the moonshine distilleries downtown, as well as entertainment year-round at a few restaurants in Gatlinburg that I have mentioned in previous posts. Have fun and enjoy your time in this lovely little tourist town!

 

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