Burger Republic restaurant plants its flag on the shores of Chattanooga

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A Nashville-based restaurant chain plans to open its first restaurant outside of Middle Tennessee when Burger Republic begins serving customers at a Chattanooga location on Monday.

Jeff Warne, co-owner of the 10-year-old business that has four locations, said Thursday his new restaurant is set to open at 203 W. Aquarium Way, across from the Tennessee Aquarium.

“We’ve found a site that we’re excited about,” he said in an interview about space, which formerly owned Big Kahuna Wings.

Warne said Burger Republic officials watched Chattanooga “for a long time.”

“We were kind of convinced that the pandemic was largely behind us,” he said. “We are thrilled to finally make a move here.”

Wayne Neeley, the chain’s market partner, said Burger Republic appreciates not only the aquarium-related traffic, but also the restaurant’s proximity to Chattanooga Lookouts’ home to AT&T Field.

Neeley said in an interview that Burger Republic plans to hire about 50 people. He said he didn’t know the total amount the company is investing in Chattanooga, but it works with local vendors such as Niedlov’s Cafe and Bakery for fresh bread.

Neeley said the restaurant will serve 20 craft beers, including more than half a dozen from local brews.

Warne said the restaurant’s burger is “really special”, using both a proprietary blend and process. He cited the restaurant’s Tennessee Burger for gaining national recognition.

Staff photo by Mike Pare/Jeff Warne, left, is co-owner of Burger Republic. He is shown with Wayne Neeley, the chain’s market partner, on Thursday.

Neeley said Burger Republic also offers milkshakes, some with alcohol. Additionally, the restaurant serves non-burger items such as ahi tuna, chicken salad and an appetizer called Nashville Hot Tots, he said.

Warne joked that he and co-owner Drew Jackman were “corporate refugees” when they started over a decade ago.

“We were very frustrated with corporate America,” he said. “We said we would control our own destinies. It took a year and a half of wrangling to find the right concept.”

Warne noted that the previous restaurant at the Chattanooga site opened around the start of the pandemic, which was also difficult on Burger Republic.

“Our four units were flat on their backs,” he said. “We limped through it. We didn’t charge but we’re here on the other side. We’re grateful we made it.”

Big Kahuna Wings is a Knoxville-based catering company that has also sought to expand outside of its home market. Prior to this restaurant, the Aquarium Way site was home to another restaurant called Rio Picante.

Last year, Chattanooga officials completed a new plan to revitalize the waterfront and attract more residents and daily use.

Attracting more affordable housing and businesses, transforming Broad Street into a better pedestrian corridor, improving public space and refreshing the Riverwalk are among the ideas revealed in the new 18-month master plan.

“I have great confidence in the plan,” Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly told about 100 people at the aquarium last summer when it opened.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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