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New innkeeper with a history at historic Hale Springs Inn brings proven success

Jeff Bobo • Mar 29, 2020 at 1:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Last year the historic Hale Springs Inn began a new phase of its 196-year-old history with the addition of a new general manager, who has a bit of her own past history there. 

The Rogersville Heritage Association owns the inn, which has been through several managers over the years since its post-renovation reopening in 2009. 

None had been able to bring consistent success to the operation until Jo Anderson took over last July.

Anderson was already a successful Rogersville restaurateur and caterer with her highly popular Sweet Tooth Cafe, which had been located just a block away from the Inn since 2008.

She sat down recently with the Times News to discuss her triumphant return to the Hale Springs Inn and the restaurant renaissance that downtown Rogersville is currently experiencing. 

KTN: How did the transition from Sweet Tooth Cafe to the Hale Springs Inn come about?

“I was looking to slow down a bit, which I’m not sure if I accomplished that, but we were doing a lot of catering at Sweet Tooth, and I needed to get away from it because it was just getting to be too much. Too many hours.”

KTN: You’re a victim of your own success.

“Yes. (Laughs) That’s what it was. But coming here was not hard for me because I started here like 40 years ago. When I was in my 20s I came to work here and met my (eventual) ex-husband here. I have a lot of history here. I worked for my mother-in-law and managed the dining room a long time ago. Coming back here was not hard for me to do, and they needed a general manager.”

KTN: The RHA had been through several managers over the years. What do you bring to the table that your predecessors didn’t have?

“For one thing, I brought a business with me. We combined Sweet Tooth with McKinney’s Tavern, so that gives us a little bit of push just bringing lunch because I have a good following for lunchtime. I’m well-known in the community because I’ve catered for everybody here.”

KTN: Now they know when they come to the Hale Springs Inn it’s going to be good.

“Right.”

KTN: And you started up Sweet Tooth from scratch?

“I did. We started up at Lorraine Brewer’s gallery in Surgoinsville in 2006. We just had three tables when we started out. We outgrew the gallery, and in 2008 we moved downtown.”

KTN: When did you make the move to the Hale Springs Inn?

“In July (of 2019).”

KTN: I heard from one of my spies that after you arrived, for the first time in a long time, the Hale Springs Inn was operating in the black.

“We’re trying. We’re doing good. We’re trying to turn it around.”

KTN: What is the menu here like now?

“We have quite a bit of seafood o the nighttime menu. We have prime rib on Friday nights now. Everybody really likes our prime rib. We have ribeye steaks, bistro fillets, shrimp and grits, bacon wrapped scampi, blackened mahi. The fourth Saturday of every month we’re trying to do a special buffet night. (In January) we had an Italian night. (In February it was) everything for breakfast. And then during the day we have our regular Sweet Tooth’s lunch menu. On Fridays for lunch, we have the pork loin that we had at Sweet Tooth, and we also have it Friday night. Along with the prime rib, those are our two specials on Friday nights.”

KTN: Is the tavern open in the evening?

“The tavern is open Tuesday through Saturday, and then we’re open for lunch Monday through Friday. ”

KTN: Do most people know that Sweet Tooth moved to the Hale Springs Inn by now?

“I think so. We had a sign on the door for a while that we were down here, so I think everybody has found us. We stay pretty busy.”

KTN: It seems like downtown Rogersville is experiencing a restaurant renaissance with the Red Dog, Coffee at the Kyle, O’Henry’s and the expected open of Hollywood Hillbilly, and a new Chicago Style restaurant in your old space. Any concern that the added competition might hurt existing businesses?

“To the contrary. I think we’re going to complement each other. If we only had one restaurant, it would get pretty boring and people would lose interest. I think we’ll have a good mix of restaurants down here and something for everybody. The more variety we have in downtown Rogersville, the more people are going to visit and discover new places to eat and new dishes that they enjoy.”

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