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Gone, but not forgotten


Ott’s barbecue first opened its doors in 1963 by Ott and Thelma Merlott. For 40 years it stood as a landmark diner-type restaurant for West Knox County residents and truckers on East Tennessee’s fabled “Thunder Road.”- Dan Barile/farragutpress
A popular Farragut eatery has shut down its ovens for the final time.

Ott’s barbecue, a landmark diner at 12828 Kingston Pike at the Dixie-Lee Junction in West Knox County for nearly 40 years, ceased operations in late August, part owner Rick Frost said.


Frost, one of three surviving sons of late owner Carolyn Frost, said, “My brothers, Doug and David, who have worked in the business since my parents came down here from Massachusetts to help my grandparents run the restaurant in 1970, decided that they wanted to do something else besides run the restaurant and so decided to close it.”

Frost said the business, which was famous for its “North Carolina-style” or “Paducah (Ky.)-style” barbecue depending on who’s telling the story, was begun by his grandparents Ott(o) and Thelma Melott in 1963.

“Ott,” as his grandfather was known, “did a lot of research to find just the right barbecue recipe,” Frost said. “He started from scratch and made notes of how (barbecue) was done elsewhere” before he came to West Knox County to open the business.

He said what Ott settled on was a pure hickory-smoked barbecue similar to what’s found in Paducah, and the sauce was vinegar-based in both hot and mild varieties.

“It was very popular to those who tried it,” Frost added.

Frost, who attended Farragut High School, said that whenever his friends asked about his family, he would reply: “Do you know Ott’s barbecue, my family owns it.” And most of the kids had either heard about it or had sampled one of its sandwiches.

Frost said that in 1970 his mother and father, Carolyn and Richard (Dick) Frost, moved down from Beverly, Mass., to take over the business – Carolyn doing the books and Dick running the front until his death in 1981.

Carolyn, with the help of David and Doug, kept the business thriving until her passing this July 21.

Frost added that the family purposely kept the business small.

“We could sell as much as we could cook,” Frost said.

“Many people approached us about opening another location,” Frost said, “but we felt that, like in many businesses, when you let someone open a second location, they run it for awhile and then open their own business using your secrets.”

So, the business remained a West Knox County secret to all but those who ever sampled the fare – either by word-of-mouth or by accident.

Erwin Collins, Frost’s father-in-law and a local realtor, said that since closing the family has entertained the idea of selling the property.

Collins said in a telephone interview from Florida, “The boys have a year to sell the property before the buyer would have to repetition the town of Farragut to operate a restaurant in the location.”

Collins said that the property consists of two acres of land zoned commercial and seven acres zoned residential with two houses on them.

The final decision as to the disposition of the property has not been determined, but Frost said that if they decided to sell the land it would be sometime this spring.

With the closing of Ott’s, another piece of Americana has been lost. Today cars and trucks continued to pull into the once-popular lunch spot on “Thunder Road” for a quick barbecue sandwich lunch.

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