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Dunlap’s Cookie Jar Cafe to go back on the dining destination menu after first of year

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: Cookie Jar Cafe fans can start planning a return to binge eating at Dunlap's beloved farm-based restaurant no

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: Cookie Jar Cafe fans can start planning a return to binge eating at Dunlap’s beloved farm-based restaurant now that a target date for reopening announced by its owners has been set for the day after New Year’s Day.


For two decades the bright blue tin roof of the Cookie Jar Café stood out from the Sequatchie Valley’s patchwork of farmland, woods and widely scattered homes situated between the bluffs of the Cumberland Plateau. A fire June 25 heavily damaged the restaurant, and its future was uncertain until its owners announced they would rebuild in July.


First, the Lockharts aimed for early 2024 but when the work seemed to be moving quickly they started hoping to move in earlier. However, now it appears repairs are on the original schedule for completion by the beginning of the year. Day 2, at least.


“We hope to be up and running by that date,” Sue Ann Lockhart, owner of the Cookie Jar with husband, Jody, said in a phone interview. “You can’t really say 100% for sure, but as of now it looks like a pretty good target.”


The Cookie Jar’s exterior appears familiar with a more barn-like roof line, and the blue roof is back, if in a slightly different form and shape with blue and black shingles, Lockhart said. The interior will be all new.


“It’s going to look completely different,” she said. “We have basically remodeled the entire building, and we have added quite a bit of seating inside.”


When the Cookie Jar Cafe opened in 2002 on Kelly Cross Road in the rolling hills of the Sequatchie Valley’s Johnson Family Farm, it stood on a history going back 150 years. Lockhart told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2017 when the restaurant marked its 15th anniversary, the restaurant is so named for the collection of 400-plus cookie jars that lined a plate rail in the dining room.

The fire

On June 25, dispatchers got a call around 6 a.m. CDT reporting smoke coming from the roof, and the Dunlap Fire Department had to establish a water shuttle operation because there are no fire hydrants near the restaurant, according to the city agency’s statement on the fire.


After the fire was extinguished, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was brought in to investigate, to avoid a conflict of interest. Jody Lockhart had ties to the Sequatchie County Sheriff’s Office, where he was a longtime detective, and the District Attorney’s Office, where he is now an investigator, according to authorities.

The Lockharts were out of town when the blaze broke out, according to District Attorney Courtney Lynch, but Lynch asked the TBI to see whether someone might have been seeking retaliation. But investigators determined the cause was electrical, Lynch said in June, and no foul play was found.

The Lockharts at first were unsure what the future held since they had no insurance on the building, they said following the fire, but in July, the family announced they would rebuild, and Cookie Jar fans rejoiced.


“We are finishing up Sheetrock and start flooring next week,” Lockhart said Friday. “I should be in the building and putting everything together and setting up. That’s my goal.”


Room for jars

The restaurant’s namesake cookie jars — all turned a uniform brown by the fire — have been cleaned and prepared to be displayed again with room for additions, she said. The display will be different from the plate rail arrangement that went all the way around the dining room before.


“And we’ll be installing some shelves for those people who bring cookie jars and want to donate them,” Lockhart said.


The Lockharts have already hired back previous staff who wanted to return and will do another hiring push once the interior is more complete, she said. They’ll need all the help they can get judging by the Cookie Jar love shown on social media.


The Cookie Jar’s faithful fans keep the restaurant’s social media page filled with supporting comments, questions, misty memories and hopes for the future, including maybe an early order for pie and lots of talk about the food.


“Congratulations! Ready to have some grilled meatloaf and coconut cake for dessert,” Daus resident Gail Reese Rogers posted.


“Bacon cheeseburger and rolls and butterscotch pie. Can’t wait!” posted Dunlap resident Johnathan Perez.


“The rolls and chocolate cake are calling my name!” posted Barker Fran Simmons, a Cookie Jar fan from Chattanooga.


“Looking forward to some chicken casserole!” posted Dunlap resident Linda Lewis.


Lifelong Dunlap resident Amy Layne Williams said Lockhart has always had a big heart and contends she possesses superhuman qualities.


“Sue Ann Lockhart uses her powers for good,” Williams said in a social media message to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “Her brother in law, Brian Lockhart, and I graduated together. Last January, we started making plans for our Sequatchie County High School Class of 1993 30th reunion. Sue Ann agreed to allow our class the use of the pavilion at the Cookie Jar free of charge, which is not an uncommon show of generosity from her.”


Fate would spark an interruption.


“A few months later, the fire happened,” Williams said. “Sue Ann assured me, not to worry, that our location would be ready. Even up to the day before the reunion, she and her team worked to create an outdoor space that was the backdrop for a memorable night, all while dealing with rebuilding challenges. She could have canceled, and no one would have blamed her, but she did like she always does when asked to help in our community, she came through and saved the day.”


Wedding cupcake

In a recent post on the Cookie Jar’s page prior to the reopening announcement, Williams expressed her anxiety over the restaurant’s return and an old high school classmate’s need for something special from the restaurant for a special day.


“I wanted to tell you that while planning our reunion, a male classmate and I were having a conversation about the food and reopening the restaurant,” Layne posted in a message to Lockhart over the summer. “He is concerned that he might have to get married again just to get a wedding cake cupcake! I told him he should hold off a little longer and wait for the reopening. Anyway, my point is, you have fans about to make serious life decisions if the reopening doesn’t happen soon!”


In other posts about the reopening fans, Soddy-Daisy resident Corey Green was so happy to hear the reopening news he wanted a reservation.


“Fantastic news!” he posted. “Don’t forget to go ahead and put my name down — Green, party of three.”


Lockhart has been taken aback by the response from the Cookie Jar’s fans.


“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “I knew how much the community meant to us, but I had no idea how they felt about us. All of this has been very humbling.”


Since people want to visit as soon as the Cookie Jar reopens, Lockhart is planning ahead so people don’t have to wait too long.


“We’ll open our reservation portal about two weeks before we open,” she said. “We’ll take walk-ins as well, but just be prepared to wait a little while.”


Lockhart said folks looking to visit when the Cookie Jar reopens should check the restaurant’s social media page for updates.


Asked if there was any significance to the Jan. 2 reopening date, Lockhart couldn’t think of any reasons.


“It is Jody’s birthday,” she said of her husband’s special day with a laugh, “but that doesn’t count.”