Gerald's Closes

Gerald's Restaurant falls victim to the economy
Mary E. Hinds News Herald

The sour economy claimed a new victim this month as Gerald's Restaurant on Highway 321 in Lenoir City was forced to close. 

"It was the general economy. There was a lot more overhead than there was income coming in. It just finally trickled down to me," said owner Jimmie Sue Campbell who began the restaurant in 1991 with her late husband, Gerald Campbell. 


The restaurant, which specialized in smoked meats, has been a landmark in the city for a long time. "It would have been 18 years on Oct. 23. We opened it together, he passed away in 2005," she explained adding the place "began with some catering in 1985 from a little place on Beals Chapel Road and then we started smoking meats and came up with the recipe for our sauces. That grew into a restaurant."


While she had many locals as customers, the business also catered to corporate clients, which she said provided a good portion of her business in recent years. "This year their budgets eliminated all extra outside functions," Campbell said.  When local corporations had to tighten their belts one of the first things to go was catered functions - a development that spelled trouble for Gerald's.  "That was one of the final things. I just couldn't keep it going any longer," she said. 

Campbell said the demise of the restaurant was the result of a "gradual downturn" that was brought about, in part, by more competition as more restaurants moved to the city. "Then when the economy just really tanked - you can only bleed money for so long," she said regretfully. 


The restaurant had a brush with greatness last year when the movie "That Evening Sun" starring  Hal Holbrook used it for filming. Unfortunately, the experience was not enough to bring in sufficient business to keep the restaurant afloat.


The hardest part of the whole situation for Campbell was being forced to lay off nine employees, a process she said she found traumatic. "I had to hand out nine lay off slips last Friday and that was the first time in my life I've ever had to do that," she said adding in years past the restaurant had employed as many as 18 people at one time.

As word spread the restaurant's days were numbered, several old customers came to eat there one more time. "I had a tremendous outcome of people in the last two weeks after news of the closing, lots and lots of my regulars," Campbell said adding she appreciated the business at the end she did wonder, "where have you been for the last six months?" 

A native of Lenoir City, Campbell and her late husband both graduated from Lenoir City High School him in 1959 and her in 1963. "We're both hometown people, we lived here all our lives," she said. 

Now it just remains for her to sell the building which is luckily in a good, visible location. As for herself, Campbell is not sure what the future holds for her. "It's the fear of the unknown. I don't know exactly where I'm going but I'll be finding something to do. Anything less than 60 hours is part time for me."