Food Channel celebrity chef Guy Fieri is sitting in the driver’s seat of a red 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible that’s identical to the one prominently featured in every episode of his popular “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show. But it isn’t moving.
It’s parked inside Fieri’s new eatertainment restaurant concept, called Downtown Flavortown. Much like the Camaro, Fieri and his team de él are n’t roaring forward, instead contemplating the economic road ahead for the retail venture’s growth and the next location of the combined eatery and arcade.
The 43,000-square-foot Downtown Flavortown is nestled in the Tennessee mountains near the Dollywood theme park in the eastern tourist town of Pigeon Forge, with a population of about 6,200 and host to what the visitors bureau estimates are more than 10 million visitors a year . Fieri was in town this month for the location’s official grand opening, while also filming for “Guy’s Family Road Trip,” another Food Channel show.
While walking through Downtown Flavortown — with a cameraman filming every move — and seeing the interior of the venue for the first time since it opened in mid-March, Fieri fires off requests for employees to tweak video content and to change the spiky hairdo on a cartoon duck. The location includes 10,000 square feet of arcade games, 14 lanes of duckpin bowling, a bar and a restaurant that seats 300 with a menu created by — you guessed it — Fieri.
“This is just the beginning of what’s going to happen,” Fieri said.
Fieri, who is as much a showman as a chef, stops at the bowling alley, and his ball’s first trip down the lane barely knocks down any pins, ending with an expletive from the Emmy Award-winning television personality. Fieri and his joint venture partner on Downtown Flavortown, Face Amusement Group, are already thinking about the concept’s next location, which could be in another tourism area in the South or Midwest.
But they are cautious about not missing the corporate target by expanding in the wrong way.
“We don’t want to do it too big and get it wrong,” Fieri told CoStar News. “I want to make this a six-hour destination spot” where kids and adults play games, eat, return to the games and then eat again.
Fieri, who has been in the restaurant industry for nearly three decades, said such a venture was not initially in his plans because there’s “too much potential” to not be successful. Face Amusement eventually sold him on the family concept of blending amusement and entertainment with his food experience.
The firm also owns Chicken Guy franchise locations in Nashville and nearby Gatlinburg. Chicken Guy is Fieri’s fast-casual concept with Robert Earl, founder of Planet Hollywood and owner of multiple restaurant chains.
Downtown Flavortown is a “brand that we want to take to a national and international level,” Bucky Mabe, co-founder of Johnson City, Tennessee-based Face Amusement, told CoStar News.
First stops probably will be where Face Amusement already has arcades and other businesses, in tourist destinations such as Branson, Missouri; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Destin, Florida. The idea is to get people familiar with the concept and expand from there, Mabe said.
Face Amusement plans to find the location and then work with a local developer on a deal. John Morgan, co-founder of Orlando, Florida-based Morgan & Morgan, one of the largest personal injury law firms in the country, and his family are investors in Face Amusement. If Morgan has it his way, the next Downtown Flavortown will be in Orlando.
“We have a great spot there,” Morgan said without elaborating.
Wherever the next location, it wouldn’t open until 2024 at the earliest. Mabe said there is a long lead time on the concept, noting that the first location took a year to put together.
By 2024, staffing difficulties and higher food costs that are plaguing the restaurant industry now will have hopefully subsided, he said.
The Pigeon Forge location sits on the end of Mountain Mile, a retail center converted from a former Belz Outlet Shopping Center that first opened in 1988. Knoxville, Tennessee, developer Dixon Greenwood and his partners carved out a large part of the former 240,000-square-foot enclosed mall to create an open area with storefronts . A thrill ride called the Mountain Monster rises from a portion of the open space.
Outdoor retailer REI opened on the opposite end from Downtown Flavortown. Construction is underway on an upscale Mexican restaurant named Azul Cantina that should open later this year or early next year. Mountain Mile also has a distillery and restaurant, a winery and a variety of boutique shops.
Greenwood said foot traffic is up 50% at Mountain Mile since Fieri’s location opened in March compared to last year. Greenwood and his partners have another 400,000 square feet they are pitching to expand into more walkable retail, restaurants and entertainment in the mountain setting.
The goal is to be more competitive with The Island, a nearby amusement park that has a Margaritaville hotel and restaurant along with other eateries such as Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen.
“We’d like to be on par with The Island in terms of foot traffic,” Greenwood said.