Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

The Old Mill Restaurant celebrates 25 years!

A new restaurant began construction in late 1992 along the banks of the Little Pigeon River. A few families got together and formed a partnership to enter into this new venture. That was Al & Mary Nell Blanton, Ben & Patsy Frizzell, and Cotton & Sarah Berrier. They wanted to bring families together in a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere, feed them well and invite them to return. A great place for local families to work was also very important and over the years there have been as many as 4 generations of the same families working here. They also wanted the restaurant to mean something, have a connection, and that is when they came up with The Cornflour Restaurant. The name came from the largest source of inspiration; the grist mill next door. The Old Mill, of course, dates back to 1830 and has been grinding corn since the first turn of the water-powered stones. Cornflour is a sub-product of making grits. Grits are sifted, after being ground, to remove the larger parts of the hull. During this process, the dust that falls to the bottom of the grits machine is called corn flour. The restaurant opened its doors in the fall of 1993.

It was in 1995 when the Stout/Simmons family, who had owned and operated the grist mill and adjoining general store for about 67 years, decided to sell. They wanted us to be the ones to carry on the legacy that they and the other 5 previous owners had built. We were honored to do so and that’s when the name of the restaurant was changed to The Old Mill Restaurant. The mill has always been privately owned and operated. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Tennessee Civil War Trail. The Old Mill itself had many names over its 150 preceding years, and many other industries were house inside the building as well, but more about that in another post. It was in the mid-1950’s that tourism began to really take hold in Pigeon Forge and the name was changed to The Old Mill. Its name and image became synonymous with the town. It’s a name that will stay forever.

For the past 25 years, the very same owners, and many employees who have been with us from the very beginning, and are very much a part of our larger family, have welcomed visitors from all over the world. On our busiest days, we take care of more than 3,000 guests from breakfast to dinner. In the beginning, corn was part of every course of the meal by using the corn flour, grits, cornmeal, and corn. Our customers told us what they loved best about the menu and today every lunch and dinner begins with a bowl of fresh Corn Chowder and a basket of Corn Fritters with maple butter. And, for dessert, we serve over 1200 slices of Pecan Pie a day, along with a fresh baked seasonal cobbler, banana pudding, and chocolate cake.

Over the next few months, we will share some of our quarter of a century history and let you get to know more about some of the fine folks you have probably met when you visited. And, we want to see your memories as well. We invite you to send pictures of your family enjoying some time with us. Please send them to customerservice@old-mill.com. Some of your pictures may be included in an upcoming blog post, on social, or maybe even in print. So, if you send us something, it is with the understanding that you have given us permission to use it.

While we can’t share an anniversary cake with all of you, we can share a recipe so you can make one and your whole family can enjoy it! You may have seen it in the last post. We’ve decided we wanted to celebrate with a cake as synonymous with the Appalachian region as The Old Mill, so we are making the prettiest Apple Stack Cake we’ve ever seen! Be sure and keep your inbox open for us, for that and many other recipes.

Old Mill Historian and 20-year employee, Jimmy Proffitt, can be reached at jimmy@old-mill.com if you have any questions or would like to share any family history connection you may have with The Old Mill.

Ever Wonder What a Grit is?

Here at The Old Mill, our products are milled the old-fashioned way. We grind corn into cornmeal or grits using French Buhr Flint Granite stones, just like this mill has done since 1830. The power comes from the sheer force of the Little Pigeon River being diverted by the dam so the water moves through a turbine, which turns the shafts, wheels, and belt connected to the stones. We then have what is called a “grits machine,” which sifts the grits, removing the hull so you get the heart of the kernel of corn. It is electric-powered today, but originally it was fueled by the power of our big water wheel turning. The iconic water wheel still operates grain elevators, which carry the corn to the stones. We think it’s important to stay true to the way corn has always been ground to feed the residents of the Smoky Mountains. Stone-grinding produces meal and grits with more flavor. In our grits, you can taste the corn! And their stone-ground texture works in all kinds of great recipes, from shrimp and grits to a simple bowl of grits with butter for breakfast.
Grits have been milled in the South ever since the native Americans introduced the settlers to the process. They are the backbone of many great mountain recipes, but you need to see for yourself. Come visit us and have our freshly milled yellow grits for breakfast and take home a bag of the yellow or white grits. If you can’t visit the Smokies, you can always order our grits online. September 2nd is National Grits for Breakfast Day, so plan now and you can celebrate with us!

Old Mill Jams, Jellies, & Preserves – Meet the man who makes them

Here at The Old Mill, we take canning seriously. It’s a craft well known in the mountains, for it was the way we preserved one season to the next. In our kitchens, John Wethington keeps the craft alive by creating small batches of berry jams and preserves for us. He cans about 40 jars at a time.
Made with strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries grown by local farmers, these jams are made the old-fashioned way. Which is how John learned to make them. He learned how to skim off the impurities that turn to foam when the jam is cooking, and how long to boil down the jam so it sets. “It’s time-consuming, but I enjoy it,” says John.
For the Old Mill Heritage Line of jams, jellies, and preserves sold at the Old Mill, the fruit comes from local growers. Blackberries, elderberries, and muscadine are just a few of the ingredients that go into John’s jams. It’s a way for us to share a taste of the mountains with you, and it’s a way for The Old Mill to support local farming. Farmers in nearby Madisonville, Maryville, and Greenville, TN, are contracted by the Old Mill to grow fruits and berries.
John works his craft out of the Farmhouse Kitchen and the Candy Kitchen depending on which jelly or jam he is making, and for which line. Come see him! During summertime, when peak berry season has arrived, John makes plenty of Triple Berry Jam, The Old Mill’s best-seller. He makes about four batches a day, or about 750 jars a week to keep up with the summer demand. He also makes gallons of the Triple Berry Jam for the Old Mill Restaurant to serve to every table at breakfast, seven days a week. Strawberry is typically the first berry we get in each season, and for a limited time, it is being sampled at breakfast too.

Happy Earth Day!

Here at The Old Mill Square, we have been mindful of how we use natural resources and what our impact on the Earth is, since 1830. The Old Mill itself still uses the very same renewable resource that it has used from the beginning. In 1817, the Little Pigeon River was dammed to divert water into a trough used to carry water to the Iron Forge. Just over a decade later, they used the same system to power the Grist Mill and then a Saw Mill. A new dam was constructed in the early 1900’s and water was diverted to the penstock that is located just under the dam, behind the big wheel that you see. There is a turbine in the penstock that is turned by the passing water and it then turns the stones. The big wheel you see on the front of the mill turns grain elevators inside the mill and moves corn to the stones. So, the entire process of grinding cornmeal and grits is still water powered! At one time, the turbine also powered a generator that produced electricity for the town of Pigeon Forge, but it’s not done that since the early 1930’s. Some of the equipment is still there though and you can see it on a guided tour of the mill.

The millers use mostly human power to complete the process after grinding, with the exception of the grits machine. They fill and weigh the bags out by hand and then tie them with a miller’s knot. They even prep each bag with its label and hand stamp the bag so you know what you are buying.

The Old Forge Distillery uses the sub-products of grinding grits to make its spirits. The corn flour and hull are perfect for their needs. The miller only bags the germ. The distillery’s spent grains are not totally spent when they are done distilling. The Old Mill Pottery House Cafe & Grille then takes the spent grains and makes a flour out of them. They have a bun, that they serve their Old Forge Whiskey Burger on, that is so tender and flavorful that you will never want another burger! One of their chefs also make Barker’s Dozen Dog Treats out of them and they can be found back over at the Old Forge Distillery, where you will see them packaged in recycled distillery jars.

Our Pigeon River Pottery uses gas kilns for the bulk of their firings in making pottery. It’s a much more efficient energy source. In the process of throwing pottery, if any piece is damaged before it is fired, they can reuse that clay. The same goes for any scraps of clay. They mix it back in with clay they have prepared to throw with and eliminate as much waste as possible. If a piece is fired and does not come out the kiln as a first quality, our Gardener uses them around The Old Mill Square in our gardens.

The Old Mill Farmhouse Kitchen works with local farmers and uses their berries and fruits in making our Heritage Line of jams, jellies, and preserves. The jars that they open to sample out to our customers are sent down to the Pottery to be used in making their Fusion Platters, which have a glass bottom. Both of our restaurants use pottery on their tables. Our Old Mill Restaurant has their own table setting of salt & pepper, sugar and flower vases, while the Pottery House Cafe also serves on our pottery. This helps the restaurants keep their supplies quickly at hand, ordering more when they need them and not having to store extras.

Making and using our own products helps reduce our footprint by reducing the number of shipments, which means fewer emissions and less packaging. What we do buy in, and what waste is created in our daily operations, is handled by our Sevier County Waste Management. They have a state-of-the-art system that sorts everything and they are able to recycle and compost 70% of all waste in the county. So, with over 10 million visitors to our area each year, only 30% ends up in a landfill!

We do what we can and we count on you to help with the rest. Remember to recycle, reimage and reuse what you can each and every day. If you are visiting us over this Earth Day Weekend, be sure and stop in the Old Mill Creamery or Candy Kitchen for a delicious Earth Day treat!