Two local men are hoping to bring the historic Carmichael Inn back to life in downtown Loudon.
Jerry Ragle and Shawn Bivens took ownership of the property in January and began working to get the restaurant in operation.
“The thing that we’re wanting to do is keep this building, it’s such a historic building that it’s a shame that it sits empty,” Ragle said. “What we’re doing is providing fine Southern comfort food, which I think is needed here in this area. It’s a perfect fit for this restaurant. It just makes sense to have comfort food in a building that goes back to the 1800s.”
Ragle also owns the Historic Loudon Theatre. The building’s history did play a role in his acquisition, he said.
The Carmichael Inn was built in 1821 and serves as one of the area’s oldest homes. The two-story log building was originally owned by John Carmichael and served as a residence, stagecoach stop and railroad inn.
“I’ve always thought the historical side of that building was pretty cool for what it used to be for,” Bivens said. “... I’ve always thought that was a neat story.”
Ragle hopes to continue its historic nature.
“It seems like we’re forgetting about the history of our country and cities,” he said. “If a building’s old and it’s dilapidated, they want to tear it down and build something new. I’m all for restoring what is old and dilapidated and making it something to benefit the town and keep the history alive.”
Hopes are to maintain the city’s history and make downtown a “destination,” he said.
Ragle believes that can be done by tying the two together.
“Coming here and eat on Saturday and then go up to music on the street,” Ragle said. “What we’re trying to do is create downtown Loudon as I want to call it a destination point. You’re not just coming for 30 minutes and leaving.
“You’re coming here having dinner, walking around town at the shops, going to hear music, then we’re open until midnight, they can even leave the music and after the bands finish they’re going to come down here and have something to eat and visit with the folks,” he added.
Ragle has been a business owner in Loudon for years and sees progress downtown.
“This COVID virus has just hurt a lot of towns, I mean not just here,” he said. “It’s put a lot of businesses out of business all over the country, so that makes it even tougher to try to bring a town back. I’m doing everything I can because I love this town. You don’t find many towns as beautiful as this one is, and the people are fantastic.”
Ragle doesn’t intend to compete with surrounding restaurants but offer something he hopes is unique.
“Like shrimp and grits, you don’t find shrimp and grits anywhere around here,” he said. “... We’re trying to provide a menu that is really good and something that you can’t get everywhere.”
That can be done with the help of executive chef Ken Mayse, who graduated from Loudon High School in 1998 and found his way back years later. Mayse served in the U.S. Army and then attended the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Fla. He eventually got “homesick” and moved back, taking different jobs before a friend said, “This is for you,” after seeing the Carmichael Inn posting.
“East Tennessee as a whole is just extremely friendly, but Loudon there’s just something about that hometown, small hometown vibe that it just made me want to come back,” Mayse said. “I longed for it, if that makes sense. I moved back I guess about five years ago with the anticipation of opening a food truck here in Loudon, but when I moved back the kind of food that I had been cooking previously like the Ritz-Carlton, the Marriott World Center and all these places, I didn’t think Loudon was ready for that and I didn’t want to tone down my cooking to appeal at that time.”
He believes this place fits.
“I grew up watching my mother cook, she’s 100 percent Italian, and so it wasn’t like mom’s at home making TV dinners,” Mayse said. “Every night was something good. Watching her and everything ... we didn’t grow up with cable or TV even so it just became something to do to pass the time was watch mom cook and help mom cook.”
The Carmichael Inn, 600 Hackberry St., Loudon, is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Ragle anticipates hours will extend once the tavern is open.
“Back years ago they weren’t called bars, they were called taverns, so we’re not wanting to be known as a bar,” Ragle said. “We’re keeping the history as a tavern, so we’re calling the tavern The Tavern at the Carmichael. We’ve kept the name Carmichael Inn because it’s historic.”