Q&A: Paul Hohe, Lead Organizer of Knoxville Restaurant Week, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House General Manager

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How long have you lived in Knoxville?

Two years in July. I’m originally from Northern California but moved here to work for Ruth Chris from Redondo Beach.

Restaurant Week is $25 and $35 fixed price menus with $5 per meal going to Second Harvest—what did you think it could accomplish in this area?

I thought it would be a great fund-raiser, great for the Knoxville dining community, and great for the Knoxville restaurants that would get exposure from guests who hadn’t dined there before.

Second Harvest got completely flooded the second day of Restaurant Week—does that change anything?

It just makes those $5 donations that much more important—and maybe the awareness of Second Harvest will lead to other donations for them, too.

Are the meals a good price for what you get?

They are amazing deals; the Knoxville restaurants really stepped up. They’re offering not just chicken and vegetables, but signature items they’re best known for—Naples is doing lasagna, for example, we’re doing filet and shrimp. All the menus include a starter and a dessert. The $35 three-course dinner we’re doing is very similar to one we do that ordinarily costs $65.

How did you personally know the other restaurant folks who would be participating?

That was one of the biggest obstacles I worried about when I first met with Second Harvest, because that was a year ago, and I’d only lived here six months. The only ones I really knew were Bill Regas and David Kiger from the Orangery. We really counted on Second Harvest’s contacts and those of Carol Costello from UT Culinary.

Did you lure other restaurateurs to meetings with great food?

What’s funny, at our first big meeting, I put a whole spread out, and they didn’t touch a thing. The second meeting, I put less out, and they didn’t touch a thing. By the third meeting there was just water and glasses on the table.

Is there some competition amongst yourselves?

Jill Thompson of the Knoxville Tourism Alliance specifically asked our group early on if we wanted to limit ourselves to particular restaurants, and my answer was absolutely not—the spirit of this was to raise money, not to disinclude. And there were and still are some restaurants we continue to—we use the word hassle—to get involved, and they just keep saying no. We anticipate they will join next year.

How much are you hoping to raise?

I believe Ruth’s Chris will contribute around $2,500, maybe more. The first night alone we contributed $600. I’d like to see the whole group of restaurants contribute $60,000-$70,000.

Are there aspects that are just experimental this year?

We wanted to keep it simple this time and concentrate on getting as many as possible to participate; we’re going to do more experimenting next year, like partnering with a liquor company for signature in We’re also hoping it will become two weeks.

So Friday’s the last day?

Yes, unless there are rave reviews and Knoxville demands we do another week.

For more information: knoxvillerestaurantweek.com

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