When Randy Schork and Brittany Boswell decided to leave the ski resort scene in Colorado and head back to the East Coast, they weren’t exactly sure where they wanted to end up. But, with a little help, they found Oneida, Tenn.
They didn’t need much help locating Oneida, at least not in the literal sense. Boswell is originally from Campbell County. And it was her family connections back home that led her to Steve Salter and Kim Harmon, the owners and operators of Fightanium Fitness. Salter and Harmon encouraged the couple to adopt Scott County as their new home — much the way as Salter and Harmon have themselves done — and, as one thing led to another, Oneida’s newest restaurant came about.
The O&W Cafe opened in January. It’s tucked away — some would say hidden — next-door to Carson’s Budget Tires just off Oneida’s 3rd Avenue. And that’s just the way Schork and Boswell prefer it.
“I think we’re close enough to the Four Lane,” Boswell says when asked if the restaurant’s location would be better served in the heart of Oneida’s retail district on Alberta Street further north.
In fact, Boswell and Schork had looked at several buildings, including one on the Four Lane, before settling on the converted apartment building next-door to the tire shop.
Holland Carson, the son of Carson’s Tires founder Hollis Carson, was preparing to rent the building as a studio apartment. The couple took one look at it and knew they had found a location for their restaurant.
“I thought it was charming,” Boswell said. “It fit our hidden gem idea. We’re not like everyone else. We wanted to be off the beaten path.”
With a little work, the small building was converted into a cafe. There’s a kitchen, a counter for placing orders and a dining counter downstairs, and limited seating upstairs.
Choosing a name for the new restaurant, which Schork and Boswell announced in December, was not difficult. The O&W Bridge was the first place the couple visited in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area after moving to Oneida. And they wanted to highlight the area’s heritage and culture.
“We feel like the O&W is a symbol of what this area was founded on,” Boswell said of the former railroad. “When you think about it, timber and coal are what brought a lot of our ancestors here, and there’s a lot of heritage around the railroad. We don’t want that to be lost.”
The start of the O&W Cafe actually goes back several years, to when Schork and Boswell met at Keystone, a ski resort in Colorado. Both were working at the resort, where they had wound up despite both being from the eastern U.S.
Boswell, originally from Campbell County, was a yoga instructor. Schork, a chef, had worked at various locales across the nation, including the coast of Maine and Florida before making the move out west.
When they decided to come back east, it was Boswell’s work as a yoga instructor that led to Oneida, and Schork’s experience as a chef that led to the O&W Cafe.
Through a mutual friend, Boswell met Salter and Harmon. The friend had learned at a Chamber of Commerce meeting that Fightanium was looking for a yoga instructor. Boswell contacted them, and the two couples struck up an immediate friendship.
Like Schork and Boswell, Salter and Harmon were not originally from Scott County. They met through their employment at Microsoft, and made the move from North Carolina to Oneida to seek a quieter way of life. Once here, they established both Fightanium and Possum Trot, a replica Western town east of Winfield. They also own Big South Fork Outdoor Adventures, which caters to visitors of the national park.
It was Salter and Harmon who convinced Schork and Boswell to make the move to Oneida, and it turned out to be the right move for the couple.
“We actually went to Asheville for about a year, but then we realized this is where we wanted to come back to,” Schork said. “The people were amazing, even more than in LaFollette. They’re just welcoming and friendly here.”
It was the same reaction Salter and Harmon had when they discovered Oneida. And, like their friends, Schork and Boswell also became business owners upon their arrival.
Schork — who calls himself a “go with the flow kinda guy” — was originally content to work as a caterer. But as the couple began to think about opening a small restaurant, they realized that there was a niche to be filled.
“We saw that the community is looking for different options for food,” Boswell said. “We wanted to offer something fresh and homemade for lunch, add healthier options. We weren’t sure who are customers were gonna be, but we now know we’re getting the working lunch crowd.”
So that’s the niche that the O&W Cafe strives to fill. With recently-adjusted hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, it is a breakfast- and lunch-only establishment. That works for Schork and Boswell, particularly with their limited seating. Many of their customers call in their orders, and the food is served quickly, which helps the small dining area work.
The cafe offers a variety of comfort foods, such as soups and sandwiches. Boswell said grilled pimento cheese is probably the most popular menu item. But daily specials are also offered — posted to Facebook on Sundays — and that is perhaps the biggest draw of all.
Over the course of the two months they have been opened, Schork and Boswell have listened to feedback from their customers and say they’re going to make adjustments based on what they’ve heard.
For one, they’re going to adjust their menu for the spring, adding some healthier options, which will include a salad bar that they hope will be supported by local growers. Schork said a contest is also being planned that will allow customers to suggest lunch ideas through Facebook.
Boswell said the restaurant has already received its first shipment of locally-grown spinach and hopes to add accounts with other local gardeners and farmers.
“Any time we can purchase produce or even meats from local sources, we’re interested in that food that is grown or processed here,” Boswell said. “Most people don’t know that when you spend a dollar locally, 63 cents stays in the community. So, by purchasing products and services locally, we’re aiming to help strengthen the local economy.”
Two months in to their operation, Schork and Boswell said their little niche restaurant has worked out well so far. And they hope to continue moving it forward.
“People say, ‘What are you going to do when you outgrow this place?’” Boswell said. “We don’t want to outgrow this place. We want to be a quaint little place where you can come and get a good sandwich or food when you’re ready.”
This article is the March 2017 installment of Business Spotlight, which is presented on the third week of each month by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series.