Meet Your BOK Winner: Charles Chandler of Chandler's Deli

Winner: Best Meat and Three

Runner Up: Best Ribs

What does it mean to you to win Best of Knoxville for the fourth time?

It's still just as exciting as the first time. I really appreciate people selecting us. It legitimizes our hard work and effort. It also reminds me that we have succeeded even after starting our restaurant against all odds.

What inspired you and your wife to start a homestyle, soul food restaurant, instead of keeping with the traditional deli sandwiches that you initially planned to sell?

My wife worked for Standard Knitting, then worked for the Levi's factory, and then that closed. I had been thinking about retiring, so after she left the Levi's plant I decided to open something simple that would still make money, and a deli sounded perfect. I was out getting dinner with my two teenage daughters at the time and we realized there was no home-cooked food on any menu in the area. Our menu didn't really fit the deli name, or our business plan for that matter. I named our restaurant Chandler's, made it a sit-down place with a homestyle menu and it has worked out better than I ever dreamed. When we first started, we could make our own hours and just experiment with our menu and see what people enjoyed.

What was the hardest part about opening a restaurant with no real experience in the restaurant industry?

We just learned as we went. We did trial and error until we found something that worked. The financing was definitely the hardest part. There really wasn't much pressure, though—we just did what we did and if it didn't work out we were just going to pack it up and head home.

I know you were documented on ESPN's "Taste of the Town." What was that like?

Well, we were featured during two games on ESPN, back to back. It was the best thing that ever happened to us. They did a story on the local food that reflects the SEC and Knoxville about two or so years ago, and chose us. It was almost too much advertising for us to handle. One week after it aired we were already swamped. Even two or three weeks later the line was still out the door. We still have groups come in saying how they heard about us on ESPN.

Did your recipe for fried chicken and other sides come from being passed down or did you make it yourself?

Our recipes are another thing we just did trial and error with. We experimented at home a lot, and handed out samples to all of our customers to get their opinions. We really just like trying new things and letting the people decide on what's the best.

Are there any new developments at Chandler's?

We do cater a lot now, in not just Knoxville but many surrounding counties as well. By 11 a.m., when we open every day, we usually already have two or three catering orders. We have also been working with a professional staff to start marketing our spices nationally and eventually internationally. We hope to have eight to 12 spices that you will be able to buy in the grocery. Some of these include our cabbage, sweet potato, and even our fried chicken seasoning. Plus, our product has already been tried and proven, because it's the same seasoning we use in the restaurant.

What is your favorite part of Knoxville, and running your restaurant here?

Wow, there is so much to like about Knoxville. Being near UT, and experiencing the people and events there is definitely something I enjoy about Knoxville. Having the football and basketball players come in and tell me how much they enjoy my food really makes me feel good. They even have a special caterer that comes in on a regular basis for the team. I really don't think I could have survived without UT being so close to our area.