Lodge Cast Iron adds store, museum, culinary studio, Big Bad Breakfast to reasons to visit South Pittsburg | Chattanooga Times Free Press

2022-12-13 10:46:29 By : Ms. Ann Lee

December 11, 2022 at 4:04 p.m. | Updated December 12, 2022 at 6:09 p.m.

This story was updated on Dec. 12 to correct the spelling of Bob Kellermann. Cast Iron Casting

Lodge Cast Iron adds store, museum, culinary studio, Big Bad Breakfast to reasons to visit South Pittsburg | Chattanooga Times Free Press

On a recent day with clear blue skies and warm fall temperatures, Bob Kellermann, sporting a cardinal red cap, slid into his convertible BMW in the parking lot of Lodge Cast Iron's main office in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

He and his guest were on their way to a lunch meeting at Top of the Rock, across Interstate 24 in Jasper, Tennessee. Kellermann drove past The Lodge Factory Store, which is home of the Lodge Museum, culinary studio, test kitchen and an under-construction Big Bad Breakfast restaurant.

He said he looks forward to the day when he can walk to a business lunch or breakfast at the new place when it opens in January. Locals were thrilled when Stevarino's Italian Eatery joined the Dixie Freeze and Harvey's Pirate Drive-in as culinary options in South Pittsburg several years ago, but they now clamor for something new, and Kellermann and others at Lodge hope Big Bad Breakfast will fill the void.

"People are so excited about this restaurant opening up," Kellermann said.

In 2019, Kellermann retired as CEO of Lodge, the company his great grandfather, Joseph Lodge, founded 126 years ago, but he said he drops by the plant or store or main office on a semi-regular basis.

The home on the Tennessee River he shares with his wife, Cheryl, a council member for the city, is about three blocks away across Highway 72.

Just a half hour earlier, Kellermann was seated at a table in the main office with current CEO Mike Otterman, the first non-family member to hold the position, and Vice President for Sales Lee Riddle, a fifth generation member of the founding Lodge family and John Currence, chef at and founder of the Big Bad Breakfast group of restaurants.

The group gathered to talk about the things happening at Lodge and what it could mean for the company and the city. For the most part, Kellermann listened and smiled, but he became emotional when asked what it meant to him to see all the planning, construction and activity going on surrounding the family business.

"Delighted," he said between tears. "Delighted. This brings everything to life."

The restaurant will be the newest piece with the museum and studio still undergoing some changes, as well. When it opens next month, it will be the 16th Big Bad Breakfast in the Southeast. Currence opened the first in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2008. His other eateries include City Grocery, a fine dining restaurant in Oxford's historic town square in 1992; Bouré, an upscale Creole place; Snackbar, which mixes Indian food with Southern fare; and Fat Eddie's, which served old-school Italian American food before closing.

"Big Bad Breakfast is the only one with multiple locations," Currence said.

"The plan was to grow it in concentric circles around the South," he said, but there are now two in Louisville, one in Rosemary Beach, Florida, and one in Charleston and several others scattered throughout the South. A 17th is slated to open in Chattanooga on the North Shore sometime next year.

They offer made-from-scratch breakfast items for breakfast and lunch.

Big Bad Breakfast coming on board is not by accident nor is it a spur-of-the-moment decision.

"It has been painfully organic," Currence said.

A touring musician after college in the '80s, Currence said he used to stop in South Pittsburg on his way to gigs around the South and shop the used vinyl and music shops there.

"I didn't even know Lodge existed here," he said.

Years later, he became a chef and met Kellermann through mutual friends and has since been a judge on several occasions for the annual National Cornbread Festival held every spring in South Pittsburg.  He became instantly mesmerized with how committed the entire town was to the event and cooking with cast iron.

Currence said his restaurants all share a common mission and set of beliefs with Lodge.

"It's a very personal restaurant," he said. "In fact, the hard part for me is having to admit that we are a chain. We do everything from scratch, and it takes people working there who understand that. We give back to the community."

Otterman said Lodge has always been dedicated to the South Pittsburg community, and the new developments are part of setting it up for the next 150 years or more. The restaurant, and the other projects, represent so much more than just a new place to eat in a town of 3,000 people, he said.

Kellermann has never wavered in his commitment to the family business, but others started making serious long-term plans for growth around 2018 when cast iron cooking became trendy again around the world. Since then, staffing has grown from just less than 200 people to a record high 600 today, according to Larry Raydo, one of a handful of Lodge employees who leads tours of the newest factory where nearly 150 different cast iron items such as skillets, pots, pans and Dutch ovens are made four days a week.

Raydo shows visitors the assembly line process of making a cast iron product. It involves melting pig iron, steel and returned cast iron pieces and then pouring the molten metal into sand molds.

"It takes about 2.5 hours to go from raw materials to boxed and ready to ship," he said.

"We are the only full-service cast iron plant in the country," he said, explaining there are a few other boutique plants specializing in just a few items.

Otterman said part of the goal for Lodge is to make it a place where residents want to work.

He said a goal of the new construction is to also make South Pittsburg and Lodge a destination where fans of the Lodge cast iron cookware can come and spend several hours touring the factory, shopping in the store, visiting the museum and eating at Big Bad Breakfast.

"We want to be a destination for people as a brand," Otterman said, citing the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, as an example. He notes, however, that the distillery pretty much owns everything in Lynchburg, and Otterman said Lodge is committed to the city and doing what it can to improve the quality of life for its residents, but doesn't want to be the sole player.

He hopes in the coming years, he said, visitors might also stay in a hotel nearby and visit other attractions, such as the proposed Connect South Pittsburg project that would create pathways through the city to the Tennessee River, and the repurposing of the old Tennessee National Guard Armory building into a recreation and health center with the help of a recently announced $630,000 grant.

The Lodge culinary studio, which features a complete kitchen and dining space, as well as a soundproof studio, is another example of Lodge's commitment to the area. Lodge ships products around the world, and the studio was created to allow for cooking demonstrations and product testing that can be broadcast anywhere in the world.

When it's mentioned to Brand Engagement Manager Laura Candler that such things could be outsourced to studios in Nashville or New York she smiled and said, "That's not how we do things here."

Later, Otterman said, "We've been good at controlling our voice. It comes from us through us. We've got to stay true to our voice."

Kellermann smiled at the comment, and said, "We're a long-term company."

Riddle, the sales vice president, attended McCallie School and said his goal then was to get as far away from the family factory and small-town South Pittsburg as he could. He returned to the family business shortly before the recent boom and today, he said, he is proud of his family's commitment to Lodge and the city.

"It has a uniqueness and charm like no other brand," he said.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354. Follow him on Twitter @BarryJC.

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Lodge Cast Iron adds store, museum, culinary studio, Big Bad Breakfast to reasons to visit South Pittsburg | Chattanooga Times Free Press

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