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Business Cheetah 8-14
Hardee's absence trying for some biscuit lovers
Warren County native Dana Hillis and his wife, Janet, are world-class BBQ champions. Their cooking has been featured on TV shows and Dana writes a column for three major publications. They are in town this weekend for Smokin in McMinnville.

The greater Warren County area is experiencing extreme misery and woe after Hardee’s closed its doors Monday for what will be a months-long shutdown. If you’re craving Hardee’s food, you better have a reliable car, bicycle, horse or skateboard because you’re going to have to travel out of town.
In case you’ve missed the news, our Hardee’s is set to be torn down and a sparkling new Hardee’s built in its place. Demolition is scheduled to begin this Monday, according to project superintendent Danny Larrimore.
Danny has an interesting story. He works for RTC Construction and his one and only job is leveling and rebuilding restaurants. He travels all across America doing just that.
Danny just finished demolishing a Krispy Kreme as his most recent project and has torn down just about any type of restaurant.
“We anticipate having this torn down and put back up in 95 days,” Danny told me. Since projects tend to take longer than expected, I’m willing to bet it will take Danny at least 96 days.
As for what will happen to the employees who work at our Hardee’s, general manager Edrie Wann told me many of them had already left to pursue employment elsewhere. Of the employees who remain, they will work at Hardee’s in surrounding towns.
Edrie said she will be working in Tullahoma for around four to six weeks before returning to McMinnville to start the hiring process for the new restaurant.
“We hope to have 60 to 80 employees when we reopen,” said Edrie, who indicated she’s not looking forward to the hiring process.
I bet. With the opening of Bojangles, followed by the opening of Zaxby’s, I’m left to wonder how much depth we have left in our fast-food workforce. Probably not much.
As for all the faithful customers who crave Hardee’s food, the stories you are about to read are real. These are not paid actors. They are real-life folks such as local nursery owner Bob Young, who knows firsthand the pain of living without Hardee's.
“They have the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten,” said Bob.
Here at the Standard, our own Ron Caldwell is taking the closure especially hard. Ron estimates he eats at Hardee’s at least twice a week for breakfast.
“Hardee’s has the best gravy in the world,” said Ron. “It’s going to be a little more difficult to get along with me in the morning.”
For breakfast lovers wondering how they’re going to survive the next 95 days, I should point out Gondola serves a mean breakfast, including a Belgian waffle that comes with ice cream. Dairy Queen is also said to have mouth-watering breakfast items.
Good luck, McMinnville.

Ben Lomand names new CEO

Call it taking advantage of opportunity.
Lisa Cope took full advantage of her role as interim general manager and CEO of Ben Lomand Connect. She made such a favorable impression in her six months on the job, the Ben Lomand board of directors voted Tuesday to give Cope the title on a permanent basis.
An accountant by trade, Lisa knows the financial aspects of the business. She now assumes the chief leadership role of the company which provides internet service to so many Warren County residents.
“It’s about providing strategic direction,” Lisa told me during an interview at Ben Lomand on Friday. “We take very seriously our role in the community, especially when it comes to businesses looking to locate here. I realize when a business is looking at our area, one of the first questions that’s going to be asked to the Chamber of Commerce or the industrial board is what kind of bandwidth is available? The bandwidth explosion has just begun.”
Lisa began her career at Ben Lomand fresh out of college in 1986. She took several years off for the birth of her children before returning to the company for good in 1996. She was serving as Ben Lomand controller at the time she was appointed interim CEO.
There was interest in the job and interviews were conducted before Lisa was given the permanent title.
“I don’t want a lot of focus on me. Ben Lomand is about we,” said Lisa in true diplomatic fashion.
Ben Lomand has 135 employees throughout its multi-county service area, which includes Warren, White, Grundy, Van Buren, Cumberland, Coffee, Franklin and Marion counties. It also has a number of contract employees.
As for interesting tidbits of information you might not have known about Ben Lomand, the company has its own call center located at the building on Chancery Street. It’s manned 16 hours a day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
“We have over a 90 percent resolution rate on the customer’s first call,” said Lisa. “The last time I ran the numbers it was a 92 percent resolution rate.”
Another added feature is the Ben Lomand free wifi truck, which has appeared at a number of events since it was put in operation in July. It’s already been at a tractor pull, the Grundy County Fair, and Smokin’ in McMinnville. Lisa says it will be at the Warren County A&L Fair next month.
“It made its debut the second Saturday in July and we’re already getting requests for it,” said Lisa. “It provides a free wifi hotspot. Rather than use your data, this is free so people really like it.”
Lisa appears well suited to take the Ben Lomand ship and sail it to lands where the broadband runneth deep and everyone has 200 TV channels of high-definition pleasure. What a land that will be! The editors of Business Cheetah wish Lisa the best.

Vernon Keith will be missed

Warren County lost one of its great business leaders on Wednesday when Vernon Keith passed away. He was 79.
It was just in January when Vernon and his son-in-law, Randy Griffith, were recognized for their business accomplishments when they received the Chamber of Commerce Retailer of the Year Award. I asked Vernon the secret to his success at that time and he said his strategy was pretty straightforward.
“We’re a first-rate company because we hire first-rate people,” Vernon told me about General Equipment. Sounds like a solid philosophy to me.
For folks who can remember things from a long, long time ago, Vernon took his first stab at retail business in 1969 when he opened Chicken Chef. In 1974, General Equipment opened its doors with four employees.
In 1980, General Equipment began selling products from John Deere and has made its stamp on that large corporation. John Deere requested the assistance of General Equipment in developing a cultivating tractor for nurseries in 1990.
General Equipment has received a number of awards from John Deere for its sales, service and customer satisfaction over the years.
Vernon was the man who guided General Equipment to its heights and he’s a man who will be missed.

Hillis finds savory career

Dana Hillis spent his childhood growing up in Warren County before the construction industry carried him away to booming towns in Florida. That was a bottle of sunshine until Florida construction projects came to a screeching halt during the Great Recession. With no work, Dana figured he needed to find something else to do and that something else was cook meat.
You could say it has worked out for him.
Dana and his wife, Janet, have ascended to rock star status in the world of BBQ competitions. In their nine years of traveling around the nation, they have won 42 grand champion awards (first place) and 40 reserved grand champion awards (second place) in the 250 competitions they have entered.
Along the way, the two have starred in a Food Network TV show, built a 3,200-square-foot workshop where they teach cooking classes, and Dana writes columns for three national publications. They are in town over the weekend competing in Smokin’ in McMinnville and visiting with family. Dana says it feels great to return home.
“Everybody goes their own ways and lives their own lives and all of a sudden you turn around and you’re pushing 60,” said Dana. “This gives me a chance to get back together will all my cousins so Smokin’ in McMinnville is something we’re going to be doing from here on out.”
Of all Dana’s stories, one of the most intriguing is the one about appearing on the Food Network reality show called “Food Truck Faceoff.” It’s a faceoff he and Janet won and they won a food truck in the process.
“The object of the show was to see who could sell the most food in two days,” said Dana of the series set in Miami. “They filmed everything we did.”
Added Janet, “They made us look like dummies at times and they did it on purpose. It was all part of the show.”
Dana said during one segment, show producers got them lost on purpose to add to the drama.
“We both had in earbuds and cameras trained on us all the time,” said Dana. “After they got us lost, they started telling Janet through her earbud to get mad at me about it. They wanted to create problems for you to solve.”
When not on the road at a BBQ competition, Dana teaches classes in a 3,200-square-foot workshop and attracts aspiring cooks from around the country. He has classes for backyard cooks and professionals and usually attracts about 25 students per class. They also do catering.
“The catering business is as busy as we want it to be and catering is really good work,” said Dana.
He owns 29 grills and serves as a representative for two grill companies – Cook Shack by Fast Eddie’s and Metal Creek. In his spare time, Dana writes for National Barbecue News, Woods & Water Magazine, and Barbecue Times.
“I’ve never missed a deadline, but I’ve sure pushed them to the limit,” said Dana.
In addition to everything else, Dana sells all his sauces and rubs online. The website is

Speaking of Food trucks

There’s a new food truck in town that’s sure to win over the hearts of Vol fans. It’s called Good Ol’ Sloppy Top and it’s owned by Danielle and Matt Pelham.
“We’re trying to be different and offering items no one else has,” said Matt.
Sloppy Top is set up in the lot next to Hardee’s every Tuesday, including this past Tuesday, which was the first day Hardee’s was closed.
“I guess we put them out of business,” joked Danielle.
Sloppy Top will be next to Hardee’s on Tuesdays, at the Meat Market in Newtown on Wednesdays, and at Pump N Pay near the hospital on Thursdays. Danielle said the idea was to provide several convenient locations around town.
Popular menu items include the chicken salad croissant. Sliders are also prominent on the menu with a sloppy joe slider, a pimento cheese and bacon slider, and a fried bologna slider. For dessert lovers, there’s vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies.
Business hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at all three locations. Call-in orders can be made at (931) 314-4038. Catering is also available for weddings or other special events.

That’s all folks

Take care and remember to get to bed early. The school day starts at 7:45 a.m. Call 473-2191 with business news.