Hello! We’re Ally & Amanda— your go-to blogging duo for all things Knoxville business. Every month, we brunch with a local boss who’s killin’ it in our community. They share their unique insight with us, and we share it with whoever wants to know! Whether you’re looking for some mid-week motivation or just a quick, insightful read, we’ve got the tales of trials and triumphs you’re looking for.
January’s been a great month for Asen so far, so it’s only fitting that we give y’all another great edition of Brunch with Bosses before the month comes to a close! For this edition, we were chomping at the bit (literally) to sit down with Kim Wilcox, owner and creative chef behind Knoxville’s slightly-hidden gem, It’s All So Yummy Café. Tucked away quaintly on South Peters Road near Cedar Bluff, this café truly is one of a kind— and one of Amanda’s personal favorites! Since we know that peaked your interest, we’ll get right to the good stuff. Keep reading for an inside scoop on the “yummiest” small business in Knoxville!
How did you come about owning your own restaurant in Knoxville?
“I’ve always loved food. It’s been an interest of mine since I was young, burning through easy bake ovens,” Kim laughs. “And you know, it’s a stress reliever for me. If I need to just Zen out, I go home and start cooking. I worked in the TV industry for a long time, just cooking on the side, and I eventually realized that I was giving my kids advice that I wasn’t following myself. I would tell them that I didn’t care what they chose to do in life, as long as they were passionate about it, and I wasn’t. So, I started catering from home and baking cakes to sell to local restaurants, which is how I met the previous owner of this café. We got to be good friends and one day he called and asked if I wanted to buy it from him and I was like, ‘uh, yeah!’ It was a no brainer.”
Why gourmet grilled cheeses?
“When my family and I bought this place, we decided to stick with the menu the previous owner had. Rather than coming in and completely starting fresh, we wanted to see what the existing customers wanted and acclimate ourselves to them and this kind of restaurant business.
Once we got acclimated, I slowly started changing things and putting my own touch on the menu. But I was always looking for something different that would make us unique; not just another little sandwich shop. I was reading a magazine one day and saw a photo of a grilled cheese, and I decided to do a ‘grilled cheese a week for 6 weeks’ special. It was just a whim that created a lot of hype, and when people kept suggesting we keep them on the menu, we did.”
Where do you get your inspiration for new menu items?
“It’s weird stuff. Sometimes it’s seasonal. Sometimes it’s me walking through the local Asian market looking for ingredients that stand out. Sometimes it’s TV or music or just a random thought in the middle of the night. Our spaghetti grilled cheese actually came from a music festival I went to awhile back that Eminem was at.” Is that your favorite one? Honestly, I don’t know if I have a favorite. The deviled bacon grilled cheese is definitely the most popular with the customers, but there’s so many to choose from… I couldn’t pick. I even keep a grilled cheese ‘bible’ that has every single concept we’ve done and there has to be over 60 by now!”
In your opinion, what’s the best part about being a business owner?
“Hands down, the sense of accomplishment. Business owners start with an idea that becomes a dream, and when you get to watch that dream come to life, you just get this sense of accomplishment. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing people in this industry, which is very rewarding. Making life-long friends out of customers has been one of the best parts of the last 7+ years as a business owner.”
What’s a challenge you had to overcome in this industry?
“Oh, there’s so many. One big one was just trying to figure out who we were and who we wanted to be in the beginning. Finding our identity in an industry filled with similar concepts was challenging to say the least. We knew we needed to take it one step further, which is ultimately why we introduced specialty grilled cheeses and soups and homemade ice cream made by my husband.
For me personally, it was also a struggle breaking into the industry. I had never owned a restaurant before, and I was working round-the-clock, with a slow flow of customers, thinking I made a huge mistake. Sticking through those challenging beginning years taught me that you don’t just have to like this industry, you have to love it and be ready to live it.”
What’s your favorite thing to do in Knoxville on a day off?
“Go home and take a nap!” she jokes. “I really just like to explore. I love to go to local concerts, the farmer’s market during summer, and visit friends’ restaurants to show my support. There’s so much to do in Knoxville and I think, working in the restaurant industry, it’s easy to want to come home and just relax and not do anything. I try to force myself to go out and explore and take in new experiences. That’s what life’s about!”