As Ferris Bueller famously said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” With 2018 coming to a close in another month many have missed out on a monumental anniversary including the party involved. With no fanfare, one of downtown Chattanooga’s sandwich shops, Figgy’s turned 40 in 2018.
Despite lack of fanfare even owner Larry Jackson had to be reminded his shop has been around 40 years. Jackson, who has owned Figgy’s since 1996 has been busier than usual. A summer move from its home of the past 12 years; two blocks down to 611 Chestnut Street inside Republic Plaza, between the move, and expanded menu (now open for breakfast) and location, extended hours and a never ending line of customers since reopening have kept him and his loyal assistant Nikki preoccupied.
Figgy’s began in 1978 by Jeff Davenport, whose family’s name is synonymous with Krystal and Central Park. “He got the name “Figgy” from his aunt who told him to quit fidgeting around when he was a kid and fidgety kid became figgy and that was his nickname,” says Jackson. The popular sandwich shop with many well-known and loved sandwiches began at the corner of 8th and Market Street. It was originally sold to one of the Chapins of Rock City fame in 1993 and five years later, whose family is Jackson Bakery purchased the business. In the early 2000s he moved the business from its original location to 805 Chestnut, where he called home until the end of May.
With all the redevelopment on that end of Chestnut as well as Pine Street behind him Figgy’s sound themselves odd man out in the plans for the block now owned DeFoor brothers of New York. Figgy’s didn’t fit in with the developer’s vision for the 800 block of Chestnut and Jackson was offered new space two blocks down from his old landlord. The build out took nearly two months but was well worth the wait for loyal patrons and the new business coming into the new location has already paid for itself. “It accommodates more seating, has a cleaner, beautiful décor,” he says. “The build out, the tables and chairs that go into Figgy’s is a beautiful space and we’re really happy and proud to be here.”
To some Figgy’s is a nondescript sandwich shop surrounded attorney’s offices and insurance companies. To their loyal fan base they are a way of life. Over the past 40 years and the 22 since Jackson purchased the place Figgy’s on any given day features a who’s who of movers and shakers in the greater Chattanooga area. On any given day you will see attorneys, media personalities and business owners come through the doors. Visitors have included Grammy winning artist, Emmylou Harris, tennis great Roscoe Tanner and even senator Bob Corker.
The setup for the shop is simple with a simple menu that is small compared to most restaurants around. “You have too many things on your menu, people can’t make their minds up; you have a lot of freezer space because you’re offering too much,” Jackson says. “You keep it simple; people know what to come back for or it they like a particular thing they know what to order. Some restaurants do will with a lot of items on the menu. We never did,” he continues. “Just to keep it simple seems to work well for us.”
The simple menu and the quality of the product is what keep people coming back for more – many for decades. The menu has remained the same with an occasional specialty sandwich. “The tuna and chicken salad are made every morning,” says Jackson. “We have special sauce, which is a house sauce the Davenports came up with years ago that’s very popular.” The special sauce came about during Krystal’s first attempt of a larger burger, called “The Big K” but was not successful compared to the brand’s small square burger.
Perhaps the signature sandwich is called “The Special”, that puts to use the signature “special sauce”. “We call it the “Special” because it goes on a corn-dusted Kaiser roll or a seeded bun with ham and turkey – heated if you want it. You can add lettuce tomato and pickles. It’s very popular,” according to Jackson.
The Special and the chicken salad are the most popular items on the menu. “It’s really kind of seasonal,” Jackson says. “In hotter weather you get colder sandwiches – special with lettuce and tomato or tuna, chicken or the turkey sandwich,” he adds. “When it gets colder heated roast beef or a heated ham and cheese, or a heated special and chili dogs seem to be doing well, too.”
Walking into Figgy’s is reminiscent of walking into a New York deli. With a line often going back to the door during lunch, Jackson has the uncanny ability of remembering what his regulars usually order often telling them what they want with little modification. “That’s the beauty of having something where you have only seven or eight items to choose from on your menu and one person orders it once or twice,” he says. Then I’ll remember the things with that sandwich.”
His ability to remember a person’s order reminded Jackson of a humorous incident when he was visiting New York. “I was in New York City years ago and my son was getting my attention. We were standing in Times Square and a man was trying to get my attention and pointing at me,” he recalls. “My son was telling me, ‘There’s a man over there trying top get your attention dad’. I looked over and I didn’t know the man’s name but I knew he was a chicken salad plate,” he laughs. “That’s an old story. It happens to me in Chattanooga a lot. I don’t know your name but I know what you eat.”
Despite the lack of fanfare from patrons over the 40th anniversary, Figgy’s is a downtown institution and the key to its success is one word. “Simplicity,” says Jackson. “A good product, a smiling face, it’s a good place to eat.”
– Dave Weinthal