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To Market, To Market

Holly Hambright Brings Gourmet’s Back

For many small businesses and restaurants, the pandemic of 2020 prompted a change of course - a reworked plan - to stay afloat amid lockdowns and mandated limitations on service. 

But for Holly Hambright of Holly’s Gourmet’s Market and Cafe, those changes were already underway. The cafe has been a well-loved fixture in Bearden for ages, but the “Gourmet’s Market” part of the business hasn’t made sense for years. 

“We’ve been in the building since October 2015. It’s gone by so quickly,” says Holly. “But even five years ago, everyone wondered, ‘Where’s the market?’”

Originally opened in 1978 across the street, where Salon Azure is currently, the Gourmet’s Market was one of the first places in Knoxville where someone could buy whole roasted coffee beans, gluten-free and soy-free products, and the sort of cooking and bakeware professional chefs and home chefs couldn’t find elsewhere. This was long before there was a Williams Sonoma or Fresh Market in town, and certainly before the internet made buying anything you wanted easier than ever.

“As time and the world would have it, the market expanded and it became harder for an independent store to make the profit margin, so they slowly got rid of the retail section and kept adding seats,” says Holly. “It’s been years since there was retail in the store. It’s just been a restaurant.” 

To be fair, the restaurant side has suited Holly fine, particularly since she’s been in the culinary world for more than 30 years. 

“I only wanted to be as good a cook as my mother was. I’m actually a failed musician,” she says, laughing. “I had a major meltdown at 22 wondering what I was going to do with my life. I went to the downtown library and it took me a week to go through every single major city Yellow Pages looking for cooking schools. I sent away for information and settled on one in Baltimore. I moved up there in ‘82 and the rest they say is history.”

The pianist and singer paired her knack for timing and rhythm with similar concepts in the kitchen. Her career as a chef took her around the country and world, learning from others and honing her skills. Holly is humble though, despite being an award-winning chef and local favorite. She even calls herself a prep cook, someone who’d be happy running a simple soup kitchen where she could try out new recipes and keep the menu on a steady rotation of new flavors.

For now, Holly’s Gourmet’s Market and Cafe will continue to shine as a cafe. But, keep an eye out for the Market side in 2021, where local companies such as Vienna Coffee, Magpies Bakery, New Market Farms, and Sweetwater Valley Cheese, among others, will have a larger spotlight.

“I want Gourmet’s Market to make sense again. People my age and older know what it was, but most people don’t know what it meant,” she says. “I want to take the opportunity now to sell local things, and COVID seems like the best opportunity to expand what we’re able to do.” 

  • From Shelton Farms in New Market