The businesses that employ members of your family. The scenic spots where you bring your out of town relatives. The route you ride your bike on Saturdays. The hospital that helped your kids get well. What these aspects of our daily lives have in common is that they were all made possible by people who founded not only some of Chattanooga’s most enduring businesses, but a large part of the makeup of our city as we know it today.
The men and women featured here didn’t just create profitable, lasting companies and institutions. They shaped the history, infrastructure, and culture of our city, overcoming challenges such as the Great Depression, personal illness, and shifting economies, to make a positive impact on the lives around them. They might not have known in the early years and the lean years if their businesses would survive, much less change the fate of the little boom town on the river. But by daring to start new business ventures, creating charitable organizations, opening tourist attractions, preserving land, and building iconic buildings, they became not just a part of Chattanooga’s history, but integral to its future.
By Meghan O’Dea
The Great Depression may have seen many fortunes lost, but Rody Davenport made his in the midst of it. In 1932, he and his business partner Joseph Glenn Sherill founded the very first Krystal on the corner of 7th and Cherry Streets in Chattanooga.
Davenport’s venture into the food industry certainly came during one of the most turbulent times in U.S. history. But ever the optimist, he believed that if they could create a restaurant that was spotlessly clean, efficient, and a great bargain, people would come – even in the midst of economic upheaval.
He was right – Krystal was an instant hit. He dedicated himself to the Krystal business for the rest of his life, and when he passed away, Sherrill, and later, his sons Rody and Gordon, maintained and grew the Krystal empire.
Over the years, Rody’s sons Rody, Bobby, and Gordon made many significant contributions to the Chattanooga community, founding and funding several important area organizations and institutions. Among the three brothers’ many efforts, Rody was a major benefactor behind the Tennessee Aquarium and the Tennessee Riverwalk (sponsoring the Krystal Pier); Bobby founded the Central Park hamburger chain and Buck’s Pit BBQ, developed the Stonedge Condominiums on Lookout Mountain, and set up the Lula Lake Land Trust; and Gordon spearheaded the development of Finley Stadium.
“These were four different individuals who had a range of different interests, but the common link was that they all had an interest in building businesses that helped Chattanooga and grew the Chattanooga economy,” says Gordon Davenport Jr., of his grandfather, father, and uncles.
He adds that all four men were people persons. “They had a real common touch– an ability to connect with others that made them well-liked within their organizations. They liked to manage by walking around and getting to know people. I sometimes hear stories from people who worked for them, and its always about what good guys they were. It was a real strength.”
To Read About More of Chattanooga’s Founding Fathers, click the following links: