Cracker Barrel is one of the restaurants many residents would like to see come to Knox County.


    We published this story in response to a reader question submitted through our Open Source platform. Do you have a question you want our reporters to answer? Click here to submit it.

    MOUNT VERNON — Whenever a new business opens in the county, especially if it’s a fast-food establishment, social media erupts with the question, “Why can’t we get a good sit-down restaurant?”

    Residents plead for an Applebee’s, Texas Roadhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Chick-fil-A, among others.

    The numbers indicate that the Knox County market can support these types of restaurants:

    •$28.7 million in unmet restaurant demand

    •$15.92 million unmet demand for full-service restaurants (January-May 2023)

    •$66.2 million in leaked dining expenditures (The most-visited restaurants by county residents include Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel, Applebee’s, Texas Roadhouse, Ruby Tuesday’s, and Longhorn Steakhouse.)

    So, what does it take to attract a Cracker Barrel or Longhorn Steakhouse?

    Jeff Gottke, president of the Area Development Foundation, said the criteria to attract national chain companies varies by sector. Population, income, square footage, and location all play a role in making an area attractive.

    “Some of this is industry dependent,” he said. “For restaurants, a lot of it is based on population and spending ability. Companies say we need this many people and this type of income.

    “Each company has its own criteria,” he added.

    Location is a significant factor

    “National-brand chains want to be on the busy thoroughfares,” Gottke said.

    For Knox County, that means Coshocton Avenue and Newark Road/State Route 13 are prime locations.

    Gottke said he received a call from a national brand interested in locating in the city.

    “We had the right population and the right income, but they needed one acre with frontage on Coshocton Avenue between Kroger and Walmart,” he said. “That doesn’t exist. So they didn’t come here.”

    A location near other national chain companies is also important. But there are few buildable lots on Coshocton Avenue.

    “National chains don’t like to repurpose space; they want to build new, and we’re running out of that. The community should be thinking about new space not on the east side of town,” Gottke said.

    The process for attracting business typically involves an anchor store with 80,000 to 100,000 square feet. Gottke said this could be a grocery or department store. The anchor then attracts smaller, co-location stores.

    Is there a trade-off?

    According to the Knox County Economic Growth Strategy, population growth is expected to reach 50,000 in the Mount Vernon area by 2028. That might open up opportunities to attract an Applebee’s or Texas Roadhouse.

    “People want to be where the stuff is.”

    Jeff Gottke, area development foundation president

    The strategy also notes Intel is expected to generate $22 million in additional sales and account for 63,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

    Preliminary data from a joint Experience Mount Vernon and ADF commercial real estate market assessment shows the local market will support 194,000 to 258,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space in the city within the next five years.

    The final assessment will shed light on where the commercial real estate is, occupancy rates, and where future commercial sites should be located.

    Referencing national chains’ desire to locate on busy thoroughfares such as Coshocton Avenue, Gottke said, “That’s also where multi-family development wants to build. That’s why we see so many multi-family developments on and around Coshocton Avenue.

    “People want to be where the stuff is.”

    Many Knox County residents long for increased amenities such as sit-down restaurants and more retail clothing stores. They also want to preserve the county’s rural character.

    Many residents fear that growth and development, whether natural or Intel-related, will destroy the county’s quality of life. As they prepare for Intel’s impact, local officials must strike a balance between the two.

    It will take a lot of planning and coordination.

    Click these links to read more about the anticipated natural and Intel-related growth coming to Knox County: Lost opportunities, Preserving the rural character, and Not a freak-out.

    The Knox Pages Open Source section is brought to you by Habitat for Humanity of Knox County.

    A Christian ultrarunner who likes coffee and quilting