Lawton Haygood made his mark on the Chattanooga area's restaurant scene as the creator of Sugar's Ribs, the Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar and Canyon Grill, an upscale destination on the far side of Lookout Mountain.
Haygood hopes to score again with a new restaurant tentatively named SideTrack he plans to open in May or June at 3514 Hixson Pike near Lupton Drive at the site of a former Huddle House where two other diner-style restaurants failed: Hillbilly's and The Hixson Pike Diner.
The location — next to a railroad track, which explains the SideTrack name — doesn't worry Haygood, because he's investing around $2 million to upgrade and expand the former Huddle House built in 2006. The Strauss Company, Inc., is the general contractor in charge of the project.
SideTrack will seat about 140 people, offer plenty of parking, he said, and serve wine, liquor, bottled beer and food cooked by wood fire — a signature of Haygood's restaurants.
"Is it a good location? We'll find out," said Haygood, who called the neighborhood home to "young, successful, hard-working people."
"There are a lot of people that have gone over there and improved the housing and continue to. The property values are skyrocketing over there in those older houses," he said, adding, "I've always followed the principal that if you put out a great product and you make it at least convenient to get into with good parking, people will come."
SideTrack's menu and prices will be comparable to the Boathouse, Haygood said.
One of the restaurant's specialties will be grilled pizza that's cooked on a wood-fired grill. SideTrack also will have rotisserie chicken — that will be finished inside a wood-fired pizza oven.
"You wind up with sort of a fried-chicken flavor, without the carbs and fats," said Haygood, who joked: "I guess it doesn't make sense: We've got a pizza oven that we cook chicken in, and we've got a grill to cook pizza. But that's what we're doing."
Grilled trout also will be on the menu, with the tongue-in-cheek name, "flying fish," because that's sort of what it'll look like.
"You just have to see it," Haygood said. "It's filleted, but the bones are still there and the head's still there."
Hixson Pike has seen other trendy, locally-owned restaurants open recently. A Mojo Burrito is in the works on Hixson Pike near Highway 153 while Il Primo and The Daily Ration operate at the other end of Hixson Pike in North Chattanooga.
SideTrack has good odds, said Matt Skudarlek, who with business partner Jason Bowers opened two restaurants in spaces where other eateries had failed: the Daily Ration and the Bitter Alibi bar and cocktail lounge at 825 Houston St. downtown.
"There's a ton of traffic on Hixson Pike that I think is not tapped into," said Skudarlek, who said some 12,000 cars a day go past the Daily Ration. "Location does matter to a degree, but if he can make that spot a destination and capture some of that traffic that drives by there every single day [he'll succeed]."
The $2 million that Haygood is investing in SideTrack comes on the heels of $1.5 million he spent earlier this year to buy a VFW Post next to the Boathouse to create more parking there.
Haygood, 72, grew up on the back side of Lookout Mountain and is a graduate of Dade County High School in Trenton, Ga. He's been in the restaurant business since 1978, including in Texas. His first attempt at a Chattanooga restaurant was in the late 1980s, when an eatery he opened on Highway 153 near Northgate Mall only lasted about six months before he ran out of money.
Haygood's next attempt had enduring success: Canyon Grill, which opened in 1995 in Rising Fawn, Ga. about a mile from Cloudland Canyon State Park. After that came the Boathouse in 2002 and then Sugar's Ribs on the side of Missionary Ridge near Interstate 24 followed by another Sugar's Ribs downtown on Broad Street that closed in the fall of last year.
"The only one we ever missed on was that downtown Sugar's. There, we could not get locals to come — primarily because of parking," Haygood said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusin... or twitter.com/meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.