(From left) Wanda Thompson and her son Aaron Thompson are expanding their catering business to include a restaurant. The duo will open The Blue Porch @ arts center on Feb. 1 in Woodbury. (Photo by M. Hudgins)
The Blue Porch @ arts center may be opening on the eve of Groundhog’s Day, but the Thompsons won’t be serving it for lunch.
Mother-and-son duo Wanda Thompson and Aaron Thompson first made their mark on the community in 2007 with the opening of The Blue Porch Bed & Breakfast in Readyville. Two years later, they launched a catering business after much success at the Main Street Saturday Farmers Market in Murfreesboro.
Now, the Thompsons have further positioned themselves in the business community by opening a restaurant within the Arts Center of Cannon County.
“We’ve called ourselves accidental caterers, and now I guess we’re accidental restaurateurs,” Wanda Thompson said with a laugh. “The opportunities seem to present themselves, and this seems to be the logical progression.”
“We were both ready for a change, so when this opportunity came up, it felt right,” said Aaron Thompson, who spent years as an award-winning photographer for The Daily News Journal before resigning earlier this month.
Visitors to The Blue Porch @ arts center are greeted with an array of mismatched tables and chairs. A hodgepodge of vintage décor hangs well positioned on the restaurant’s blue walls, so much so, one might be inclined to remember Grandma’s dining room. The food Blue Porch fans have come to love is served on plates of varying sizes, colors and designs, adding yet another touch to the restaurant’s comfortable feel.
“It’s everything you love about The Blue Porch,” Aaron Thompson said.
“We understand that everyone lives a hectic lifestyle, and we want to offer a place with good quality meals cooked by someone who cares in a comfortable, friendly environment,” Wanda Thompson continued. “It’s not going to be high-end, but it can be for private parties and events.”
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Blue Porch @ arts center offers a menu that features “our twist on a meat-and-three,” Aaron Thompson said. “We want our food to be good enough that people who are foodies are going to love it, but people that aren’t foodies aren’t going to be put off by it.”
Utilizing local and seasonal veggies, The Blue Porch @ arts center will feature a set daily menu that will alternate three times a year. Additionally, the restaurant will always provide a grilled or baked option and lunchtime salad bar for diners seeking a lighter fare. Soups and daily specials will be announced via Twitter and Facebook, and the Thompsons have plans for a monthly catfish fry, as well. To top off the home cooked meal, try some hand-dipped ice cream or malt milkshake.
Patrons can purchase local products ranging from jams and jellies to mustard and hot sauce that will be used in various recipes.
“We think we’re a good fit for the art community that’s already established here,” Wanda Thompson explained. “They are sort of trendy, and they like to support local restaurants and farmers. The community-based theater goes along with our philosophy of local everything.”
Cannon County Chamber of Commerce President Neal Appelbaum noted how the Farmers Market recently relocated to the Arts Center, which will be mutually beneficial to The Blue Porch.
“Farmers market shoppers will be restaurant customers, and restaurant customers will go to the theater and Farmers Market,” Appelbaum said. “I’m excited about a restaurateur that provides excellent food and excellent service, and it will be a great complement to the Arts Center.”
Two other restaurants have unsuccessfully attempted to maintain a presence at the Arts Center, but Appelbaum is confident The Blue Porch will be different.
“Wanda has established a food following already, and by transitioning to this larger venue that has a regular clientele of theater-goers, she’ll be able to grow her business,” he said.
This concept of sharing customers fits into the Arts Center at Cannon County’s initial plans for a restaurant, Executive Director Donald Fann said.
“When we originally conceived a restaurant … we wanted it to draw people to the Arts Center who wouldn’t come to the theater otherwise, especially on a regular basis,” he said.
Both previous restaurants struggled with this idea and instead counted on the theater-goers as their main source of foot traffic.
“We really benefited the restaurant, and the restaurant benefited our patrons, but not really us,” Fann continued. “It is an entry point for people to come eat, then check out the rest of the facility.”
Audio and video exhibits are available year-round, and Fann thinks The Blue Porch will draw visitors to the center regularly, even when no theater performances are scheduled.
To complaints of the Arts Center being too far from Murfreesboro and too far out of Woodbury, Fann said, “It’s 15.3 miles from the Walmart red light and 1 mile from the Cannon County courthouse.”
Aaron Thompson added, “We’re the same exact distance from the (Rutherford County) courthouse as Miller’s Grocery (in Christiana).”
While the Thompsons will open their restaurant Wednesday, they will continue working hands-on at the bed and breakfast, catering services and Saturday Farmers Market, Wanda Thompson confirmed.
“Our food is good, but our customer service is great,” she said.