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Arby’s marks 40 years in Knoxville area

“I’ve been in and out of Knoxville since about 1945,” said Farragut resident Thomas Johnson Jr., owner of 17 Arby’s restaurants in East Tennessee plus another under construction off Emory Road.

“I was living in Akron [Ohio] when they opened the first Arby’s and I got right excited about it and went down to Youngstown to talk to the two brothers who started Arby’s,” he said.

The brothers told Johnson they were not ready to move to Tennessee yet; a few months later they were ready and called him up. Johnson opened the first Arby’s off Kingston Pike at Papermill Road.

“That was the first Arby’s between Cincinnati and Miami,” Johnson said. Johnson also was the fifth licensee.

“We’ve been at it 40 years the twentieth day of May,” he added.

Arby’s has long supported the Kidney Foundation by selling coupon books. During 23 years of sponsorship, Arby’s raised $2,085,000 for the Kidney Foundation.

Johnson said that no one in his family has suffered from kidney disease, but added, “I had a kidney stone one time, I tell you, that ain’t no fun.”

For the past five years, Arby’s has shifted its support to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“It seems like Alzheimer’s has been a disaster for my wife’s family … we just got interested in it and decided we would help the Alzheimer’s Association.

“There’s more publicity about Alzheimer’s. If you don’t have it, you may get it or you’ll know somebody who gets it or you’ll be a caregiver,” Johnson said.

“There’s nothing known yet to cure Alzheimer’s. It’s a disease where they know what causes it but nothing to cure it. … More people relate to Alzheimer’s than they do to the Kidney Foundation and I don’t mean that to downplay kidney disease,” he added.

“There’s so much devastation with Alzheimer’s that I don’t know how to describe it … there’s nothing they can do about it. Hopefully, there’s something we can do to help. ”

Johnson estimated that Arby’s has donated more than $600,000 to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We felt so strongly about the support from the people of Knoxville, that’s why we’ve gotten into these programs, trying to give something back to the community,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s sons, Thomas Johnson III and John T., have worked at Arby’s since they were 12 years old.

“At that age, we missed out probably on some play time, but it just became second nature,” Thomas Johnson III said.

Arby’s cooks much of its food fresh, including the roast beef, potatoes and the syrup for its famous Jamocha shakes.

“It’s all cooked on the premises. And the Jamocha shake is made from a formula that Arby’s came up with long years ago. We could buy the syrup already made, but we found that there is something about making it fresh,” Thomas Johnson Jr said.

“We buy beef by the trailer-load and we cook it in the restaurant and the baked potatoes and all are cooked right in the restaurant. Everything’s fresh, even the chicken salad. We make that daily.

We feel like it’s better, doing it that way,” he added.

“Arby’s, from the get-go, has had a philosophy of trying to offer as many fresh products as we can,” Thomas Johnson III said.

“We have absolutely been blessed. Since the day we opened up, May 20, 1968, we have had people standing out of the door … it’s unbelievable how much people have supported us,” he added.

As another token of his appreciation, Thomas Johnson III revealed that Arby’s would be running a special in the restaurants on May 20, but he was mum on specifics.


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