By Jessica Mozo
A hearty, home-cooked meal is the last thing you’d expect to find in an old tobacco barn. That is, unless it happens to be The Rustic Barn in rural Blount County.
Established by husband-and-wife team Tom and Barbara Hatmaker, The Rustic Barn is a 70-year-old structure the couple converted into a restaurant that specializes in down-home Southern cooking.
“People don’t come all the way out here to eat a hamburger,” says Barbara, a seasoned cook who prepares all the food. “They come for chicken and dumplings, real mashed potatoes, pinto beans, meatloaf and Southern fried chicken. We make it all ourselves – our gravies and soups are handmade, and so are our desserts. I make chocolate pie, lemon pie, coconut cream pie, German chocolate cake, pumpkin pie … whatever I feel like making on any particular day.”
For Hatmaker and the many hungry patrons who pass through the restaurant’s doors, The Rustic Barn is a little piece of heaven. It sits on three acres – part of Hatmaker’s farm – and is surrounded by flower gardens and goldfish ponds. Murals of mountain scenes decorate the walls, the handiwork of the restaurant’s one employee, 83-year-old Ruth Sunday.
“It’s just a cute little old place, and there’s an awesome view of the mountains,” Hatmaker says. “There’s nothing quite like it. It’s its own beautiful little paradise out in the middle of nowhere.”
When the Hatmakers started the business eight years ago, however, they were far from living in paradise. “My husband had lost his job and was diagnosed with cancer, and we had just bought this farm,” Hatmaker says. “Cancer turns your world upside down, and fixing up this barn was good therapy. It gave us something to concentrate on other than the seemingly bad things around us.”
Over the years, her husband, Tom, helped to transform the old tobacco barn into a restaurant and saw their dream of opening The Rustic Barn come to fruition – and become established and well loved by locals and tourists alike – before he passed away in September 2009.
The eatery has continued to grow in popularity, despite of – or thanks to – its off-the-beaten-path location.
“We’re out here in the middle of nowhere, 10 miles from Maryville. There’s no Walmart, only churches,” Hatmaker says. “But it’s been amazing – people find us from all over the world and as far as Belgium. We’ve served rich people, poor people, ex-governors, football players and everyday people.”
The Rustic Barn serves food family-style, with a choice of three meats and five side dishes daily. Favorite sides are garlic cheese potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole and Hatmaker’s cornbread salad.
“People tell me I need to do a recipe book, but I can’t because I never measure,” she says. “I just do a pinch of this or that.”
The atmosphere inside The Rustic Barn is warm and friendly. “We play gospel music all the time, and people can sing if they want to,” Hatmaker says with a laugh. “I tell people, this is a barn. You can speak loudly if you want – just don’t be throwing food back and forth.”
Hatmaker is building another dining room that will be connected to the barn by a covered breezeway so they can accommodate large groups and weddings. When complete, the dining room will bring The Rustic Barn’s capacity to a total of 80, plus outdoor seating in the summertime.
“We’ll have swings and gliders on the porch,” Hatmaker says, “and plan to put a craft and antique shop in the upstairs of the new dining room.” She says she’s not sure when it will be done but adds that she hopes the addition is completed by the end of 2010.
Hatmaker admits the restaurant has been an overwhelming amount of work, but it’s work that she enjoys.
“It’s been an awesome journey that has increased my faith and trust in God,” she says. “I enjoy serving people and making them laugh. I thank God for this barn every day. It’s a labor of love.”
If You Go…
Feel like taking a drive to enjoy the scenic mountains and some down-home cooking? The Rustic Barn is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and from 4 p.m. until the food runs out for dinner and is located at 2828 Ellejoy Road in Walland (Blount County). Please call ahead for reservations at (865) 379-4276, especially before driving long distances – the barn only seats about 30 people, and they have been overwhelmed by the phenomenal response from Home & Farm readers.
New servers and cooks have been hired to keep up with all the new customers, and Hatmaker apologizes for any cold food or slow service that some of you experienced the first weekend after the magazine came out. She says she is now better prepared for large crowds but still requests you call ahead for reservations. If not, you may have to wait – or end up sitting at a larger table where strangers become new friends! Hatmaker also is deeply sorry for the one day they were unable to serve dessert and says that’s all the more reason to come back and try them out again.
Here at Home & Farm, we’re very sorry to hear about any bad experiences, but we’re very happy to pass the message along to business owners if you haven’t done so yourself – so keep the feedback coming, whether it’s positive or negative. And we always recommend calling a business or event before driving a long distance, just to be sure. Thanks!