Chattanooga Companies’ Milestones

Milestones

A mosaic of deeply rooted establishments and fresh-faced endeavors enriches the economic landscape of Chattanooga. Within this lively mix of passion-driven products and services are teams achieving landmark anniversaries. As one honors a centuries-long legacy, another begins to see the fruits of their efforts. Learn the histories and success stories of local companies as they celebrate quarterly anniversaries this year, from 25 years to 150 years.

By Rachel Coats

Photo Courtesy of The Read House

First Things First. Est. 1997

Photos Courtesy of First Things First

First Things First has been cultivating healthy relationships in Chattanooga since its creation in 1997, when a broad cross-section of civic leaders noticed a need for regional, relational resources. First Things First, a nonprofit, was created by these motivated individuals to rebuild, renew, and revitalize Chattanooga through fostering healthy relationships. Its founder and first CEO, Rae Bond, passed this vision to original communications director, Julie Baumgardner, in 2001. She served as CEO until 2021, when Lauren Hall took over the position.

Today, First Things First offers a plethora of accessible, research-based resources for all stages of partnership and parenthood, seeking to build, heal, and strengthen relationships. It has piloted policies and programs, such as Dads Making a Difference – a program that has benefited nearly 600 non-custodial fathers since 2010. Regional statistics and participant surveys report increased marriage rates, marital health, and positive parental involvement, all aided by the organization’s efforts.

First things first family
“The most rewarding part about being at First Things First is seeing someone go from frustrated, lonely, and disconnected to joyful, fulfilled, and connected… It’s truly motivating to wake up every day knowing there’s potential to positively change a family for generations to come. Consistently doing this work will lead to a healthier, more stable community that I am confident will shape the world for good,” says CEO Lauren Hall.

The nonprofit holds to its founding vision while expanding avenues through which to offer its resources. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted an increased investment in the organization’s online library, which now includes blogs, videos, e-books, virtual events, digital courses, and more. From the end of 2019 to the end of 2021, its online reach increased from 1.6 million to 10.6 million families nationwide.

The First Things First team plans to celebrate its first quarterly anniversary with a community birthday bash this fall and a continued push for positive change. Relational dynamics are an ever-changing landscape that the First Things First team is equipped and inspired to navigate. Hall shares, “As our world, our community, our culture shifts and changes, families will always have relationship challenges and needs. We will remain a steadfast presence full of compassion, guidance, and open arms.”

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Astec Industries Est. 1972

Photos Courtesy of Astec Industries

Astec Industries was incorporated in Chattanooga on August 9, 1972. Its name is a clever combination of “asphalt” and “technology,” fitting for what began as a manufacturer of asphalt mixing equipment. Astec was founded by Dr. J. Don Brock and four of his friends – Al Guth, Gail Mize, Norm Smith, and Mike Uchytil. A five-year business plan mapped out around a kitchen table 50 years ago has since become a global billion-dollar company and leading manufacturer of heavy equipment for road building and construction-related activities.

Groundbreaking innovation and commitment to customers fueled its success. But like any organization that has stood for half a century, Astec experienced its share of growing pains. The company has withstood the test of time, thanks to a focus on manufacturing best-in-class products and providing exceptional customer service. In 1986, Astec Industries became publicly traded on the Nasdaq exchange, expanded geographically, and increased its product offerings through a series of acquisitions. Today, Astec’s Rock to Road® product portfolio offers customers a “one-stop-shop” of equipment for the asphalt, concrete, aggregate, and industrial heating industries. The company employs more than 4,000 people, with sales and manufacturing operations located around the world.

Barry Ruffalo joined Astec as president and CEO in 2019. With more than 25 years of manufacturing experience, Ruffalo began propelling Astec forward to long-term growth with the new OneASTEC business model. The company had been operating as a set of separate subsidiary businesses, creating opportunity to leverage best practices and unlock additional value.

Ruffalo tells us, “We are evolving by investing in new systems and processes to streamline our operations. Coming together as OneASTEC makes us a stronger and more efficient company. We are better able to collaborate and find synergies within the business. It makes it easier for our customers and vendors to work with us. Lastly, our employees have more opportunities to develop and grow their career with us.”Astec Industries is honoring the legacy of its first president by committing $1 million to the Dr. J. Don Brock Astec Industries Inc. Memorial Scholarship Endowment which is awarded to children and grandchildren of current employees.

“Dr. Brock had a passion for learning and a reputation for being a teacher, so increasing the scholarship for our employees felt like a good way to celebrate this milestone,” explains Ruffalo. He adds that Astec plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary this August with its thousands of employees worldwide.

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T.S. Raulston, Inc. Est. 1947

Photos Courtesy of T.S. Raulston, Inc.

T.S. Raulston, Inc. is a Chattanooga-based mechanical contractor whose origins trace back to 1947. Established by T.S. Raulston Sr. only two years after the end of World War II, it originally specialized in plumbing under the name Raulston Plumbing Company. During the following decades, its services expanded to include process piping, air conditioning, and hydronic heating, among others. T.S. Raulston, Inc. was incorporated in 1963 under the leadership of Raulston’s son, Jim Raulston, its new title honoring its founder’s legacy.

TS Raulston Sr of chattanooga
Since 1940, Chattanooga’s population has increased by more than 50,000. As a result, demand for infrastructure increased. T.S. Raulston, Inc. has played an important role in equipping the schools, hospitals, businesses, and manufacturing plants of the city with the amenities needed to keep its inhabitants safe and comfortable. Significant Chattanooga establishments have benefited from its services, including The Westin Hotel, McCallie School, Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, Volkswagen, Tennessee American Water Company, Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, and the Chattanooga Airport. T.S. Raulston, Inc. has also been involved in some of the largest mechanical and piping projects in the Chattanooga area, installing systems and equipment during its decades of operation.

The company has withstood economic challenges and supply chain issues through maintaining client relationships and delivering outstanding results. Investing in the community and the buildings its residents live, learn, and work in has given T.S. Raulston, Inc. a respected reputation of reliability. Current president John Raulston says, “Our hands-on approach with customers combined with our quality craftmanship has helped retain clients and build new relationships.”

Access to helpful technology has allowed T.S. Raulston, Inc. to expand and improve its services. “We have invested a lot of time and money to incorporate new technology being used in construction design,” Raulston elaborates. “We focus on solving the problems in the drawing stage, so that field work and installation is flawless the first time.”

The mechanical contractor is still owned and operated by the Raulston family – John Raulston is T.S. Raulston Sr.’s grandson. Raulston appreciates his family’s legacy and success and hopes to see it continue, sharing, “Being a third-generation owner and getting closer to retirement, my biggest goals are passing the company on to the fourth generation through proper training and maintaining my relationships.”

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The Double Cola Company Est. 1922

Photos Courtesy of The Double Cola Company

Though the Double Cola Company has been acquired several times since its inception 100 years ago, its dedication to producing quality beverages has not – and it all began with a single soda. Charles D. Little and Joe Foster established the Good Grape Company in 1922 to market their newly developed grape soda. They expanded to offer more flavors, and two years later, changed their name to Seminole Flavor Company.

1933 was a monumental year for the company, as it developed the formula for its iconic Double-Cola Soda – the same formula still used today. The soda’s name was also its selling point, being double the size of the six-ounce cola bottles that were the industry standard at the time, yet retailing at the exact same price. In 1953, the company adopted Double Cola as its new corporate name.

Vintage double cola company bottle poster
KJ International acquired Double Cola in 1981 and has owned it ever since. A family-owned business, Double Cola is led by president and CEO Alnoor Dhanani and his wife, COO Gina Dhanani, operating out of the company’s headquarters on Market Street.

“We could have our office anywhere in the country, but we choose Chattanooga because we love our hometown and the support we get from our community,” says Gina. “Chattanooga is known far and wide for its innovative spirit, and we’re proud to be an example of that to our customers across the United States and the other countries where our products can be found.”

The company has endured for an entire century by sustaining its legacy of creativity and paying careful attention to the market. “Anyone who leads a consumer products business will tell you that anticipating, and then meeting, shifting consumer preferences is a never-ending process,” explains Gina. “From the types of drinks we offer, to the ingredients used, to packaging, we are always on our toes working to get ahead of emerging trends.”

Today, Double Cola manages several beverage brands, from its classic Double-Cola and fan-favorite citrus drink, SKI, to adult beverage, BREWSKI, and its soon-to-debut water and ready-to-drink cocktail brands. Its team is excitedly planning a months-long centennial celebration, having kicked off “100 Days of Double Cola” at the beginning of July. They plan on hosting a series of events around the city, which will culminate in a big party on the date of their anniversary in October.

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Lodge Cast Iron Est. 1896

Photos Courtesy of Lodge Cast Iron

Lodge Cast Iron’s history contains a tale of seasoned success in more ways than one. The oldest family-owned cast iron manufacturer in America was founded by Joseph Lodge in 1896, who repurposed a dormant railroad foundry in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, to produce cast iron cookware. Originally called Blacklock, the company saw 14 years of production at this location before it tragically burned down. Lodge was determined to keep his company and its momentum alive, rebuilding and rebranding it under his name. Only three months after the fiery incident, Lodge Cast Iron was born.

After surviving the Great Depression by selling animal-shaped doorstops and fireplace irons, Lodge began investing in its foundries. The installation of automated infrastructure in the mid-20th century was revolutionary, replacing hand-pour methods and creating a safer, more efficient workplace. In 2002, Lodge pioneered what is now an industry standard when it began seasoning its products in the foundry. Pre-seasoning cast iron cookware made it ready-to-use and simplified its previously complicated care process. The addition of a second foundry in 2017 allowed Lodge to ramp up production, and today, Lodge ships an impressive 1 million pounds of product each week – all still produced and packaged in South Pittsburg.

Lodge Cast Iron originated as a family endeavor and is now in its sixth generation of Lodge family ownership. While Mike Otterman is the first non-family CEO, he carries on the values they have instilled in the company. “Not many companies are six generations strong, in their same location, making the same kind of products,” observes Otterman. “Our values of transparency, treating each other with respect, working together, and learning from each other have stayed the same from the moment that I got here, and the 125 years before, and we’ll continue those values going forward,” he says.

Though Lodge turned 125 last year, the celebration continues with the opening of the Lodge Cast Iron Museum this fall. The museum will feature interactive exhibits where visitors can learn about the history of Lodge, its foundry processes, and the culture of cast iron. “I want people to think about the business and the brand as something they want to be a part of, versus just a skillet,” says Otterman. Looking forward, he hopes to see Lodge continue for another 125 years of creating heirloom-quality products that can be passed down for generations to come.

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The Read House Est. 1872

Photos Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and The Read House

A large brick building constructed in symmetrical Georgian style sits at the corner of Broad Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, an emblem of Chattanooga history. Established only a half century after the city itself, The Read House has endured floods, epidemics, economic misfortune, changes in ownership, and even an infamous ghost story.

After the Crutchfield House, an 1847-built hotel with Civil War history, burned down, John Read opened a small, 45-room hotel – The Read House – to take its place in 1872. His son, Samuel Read, took ownership of the property 14 years later, expanding the hotel to four times its original size.

Like its predecessor, The Read House was also reduced to rubble, except this time it was intentional. The original building was demolished in 1926 to make way for its current structure, featuring 10 floors and 400 rooms. A gradual removal and construction pace allowed The Read House to remain open every single day of the process.

Since then, the hotel has grown under different leaderships. It has hosted world leaders, presidents, celebrities, and other prominent individuals, such as Winston Churchill, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan, and Oprah Winfrey. One visitor may have never left – a woman rumored to have been murdered in Room 311 where her ghostly presence reportedly remains.

Today, The Read House is owned and operated by Avocet Hospitality as a period boutique hotel. In 2016, the group renovated the hotel to restore its original 1926 grandeur while still offering modern conveniences. “We want guests to feel like they’ve stepped back in time,” says Jim Bambrey, general manager of The Read House.

The longest continuously operating hotel in the Southeast and part of the National Register of Historic Places, The Read House’s impressive feats result from generations of investment. Bambrey shares, “Thoughtful care and an understanding of the need for innovation have allowed The Read House to maintain its splendor throughout the decades; the hotel was renovated as needed, but never once closed its doors.”

The Read House is honoring its 150 years of rich history through a commemorative time capsule, dinners featuring historical menu items, antique displays, branded mementos, and more. “The history of the hotel truly stands out and interests all our guests,” observes Bambrey. “Guests can book a stay at a hotel anywhere across the nation, but there is only one Read House.”

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