Here are some glad tidings for Dade’s hungry: The Mountain Top Café on Lookout begins serving dinner today, Monday, July 2. The restaurant formerly known as Geneva’s opened under new management three months ago but until now has served only breakfast and lunch.
And here are some glad tidings for Dade’s thirsty: The Mountain Top Café on Lookout has filed paperwork with the county for a liquor license, and aims to be the first establishment in unincorporated Dade to serve beer and wine.
“They [the Dade County Commission] still have to have a meeting and they have to have an inspection, but they say there’s no reason for us not to get it,” said Perry Voclain, one of the three partners who run the restaurant.
He added that he understood the paperwork takes a couple of weeks to process, and he had no idea how long it would be before the café will be officially "wet."
After Dade voters said yes to liquor by the drink by a 60-40 margin in 2016, the Dade County Commission has received considerable blowback for more or less nullifying the referendum with the prohibitive seating minimum requirements, application fees and restrictions set forth in the ordinance it drew up to regulate such sales.
But Voclain (right) says the county has been cordial and cooperative about his restaurant’s application. “Allan [Bradford, the District 4 county commissioner] realizes this is a democracy,” said Voclain.
Bradford, interviewed briefly the same day at a county budget meeting, verified he’d in fact picked up liquor license paperwork for the restaurant personally (though he didn't pass up the opportunity to repeat he never touches the stuff himself).
In any case, the Mountain Top won't be all that "wet." Voclain says the restaurant will only serve beer and wine, only with food, and only at dinnertime between 4 and 8 p.m. “This is not a bar and never will be,” he said. “It’s not going to be a juke joint at all.”
He and his partners plan to start with two different wines and probably three beers, all moderately priced. He said the demand for dinner-and-a-drink was not hard to discern from his Lookout Mountain clientele, which includes tourists and residents of the affluent area's exclusive gated communities. “They would love a glass of wine with dinner, just like I do,” he said.
Drinks can also be an important additional revenue stream for restaurants, and Voclain agreed that would not be unwelcome, either. “Also, yeah, sure, hopefully we’ll make a little money,” he said.
Who are the new owners of the Mountain Top? Voclain explained that he and his partners, Stan Carnahan and Michael Smelcher, have run the Chattanooga Auction House on Broad Street for the past 25 years. They all live in Chattanooga but were often in Dade on weekends because they own a vacation house on the bluff at Plum Nelly.
Which is how Geneva’s permeated their consciousness. The restaurant had been on the market for a good year and a half, said Voclain, when: “One day we just thought, you know, this is a good property, let’s talk to them,” he said. “One thing led to the next and before you knew it we had the restaurant, five acres and the house.”
The three partners have continued running their auction business even as they opened the Mountain Top Café for breakfast and lunch. “One of my business partners comes and opens in the morning.,” said Volclain. “I get here about 8:30 and he goes to the office. My other partner comes in about 9 and he cooks until about 3. In between, he does some of the tech support for the Auction House. When we have the auction, we all three work there and our crew here, which is amazing, handles the restaurant.”
Auctions are only once every two months, he explained, but they are mega-events with about 900 items for sale, 300 people in the audience and another 30,000 online bidding at the same time, so they take some time to prepare.
But back to the Mountain Top: Lunch at the café can be short orders off the menu or meat-and-three daily specials. Dinner will probably be more along the daily-special lines though details are still evolving. Hours as of this week are Monday through Thursday 8 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
How the dinner trade will work out is still to be seen but Voclain said business has been brisk at breakfast and lunch since day one.
“We have a steady breakfast and a steady lunch on weekdays, but on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we’re packed out,” he said.
In fact, the restaurant is expanding its seating area with a screened-in patio in the back, and Voclain says he and his partners hope to get live music out there for weekends eventually.
Voclain's plans for the restaurant include a big one for himself: He's decided, as others have before him,that Dade is the center of the universe--or at least of his, insofar as he's decided to move into the Plum Nelly house full-time.
“Opening up this restaurant has brought in so many characters, so many old-timers,” he said. “I’ve learned so many things being here, and I want to live here.”
If you'd like to visit the Mountain Top Café, it's at 12136 Highway 136, just east of Cloudland Canyon State Park, and the telephone number is (706) 398-1749. Or visit on Facebook, where the menu is posted every day--here's a link: