I had planned for us to sample one more barbecue place around Knox County, but our day was too long and we were too late. Plans B and C crumbled and so we hit a reliable old friend for a bowl of chili before coming home.
Petro’s is one of the most unassuming little fast food experiences around, and, sadly, one that doesn’t seem to translate very well – so far – into a broader and more successful chain. It’s very Knoxville, to put it plainly. I’ve been rooting for them for many years, but their expansions into other markets have a sad tendency to only last a couple of years. There was a Petro’s stand in Bobby Dodd Stadium at Georgia Tech (of all places) for a little while. A big freestanding restaurant in Lexington KY that was shaped like a bowl (presumably containing chili) opened in 2014 and closed last year. They do have a pair of oddball locations way outside the store’s home area, in Bedford TX and some place called Bargersville IN.
But Knoxville people know about Petro’s, and so do tourists like us who enjoy the place. We’ve stopped by for a small bowl of chili, topped with cheese, tomatoes, onions, and sour cream, on several of our visits through town. Even if we didn’t have room in our bellies for a bowl, it’s still worth stopping for some of their “hint of orange” tea, which, magically, they sell in gallon jugs.
On this trip, I’d picked three barbecue places as possibilities for my dinner after Marie ate at GruJo’s, but time got completely away from us, and Knoxville’s barbecue restaurants tend to close earlier on Saturdays than is really convenient. So I just said that I’d have some chili.
I remembered that we had written about Petro’s about seven years ago, so it was probably okay to write a little new content and mention it to newer readers who don’t feel like slogging through the (good grief) million-plus words on this blog.
Petro’s dates back to the 1982 World’s Fair, when an entrepreneur started selling Frito pies like they do in Texas, only calling them “petroleum bellies” because the theme of that exhibition was energy. They were absurdly successful and talked about locally for the next three years until Dale, Keith and Randy Widmer bought the rights to the name, modified it to “Petro,” and opened a restaurant in a local mall food court. They’ve opened a few more locations since, including a fairly new store in Powell that we had passed earlier in the evening.
I always get a medium Petro and a little side cup of marinated cucumbers. I think their chili is bettered by many places, but also a lot tastier than any of their fast food competitors. I’ve always enjoyed very good service from this store on Kingston Pike. I spoke with the manager on duty, who was telling me that they’d opened a new store in nearby Lenoir City and were planning for a few more locations in eastern Tennessee later this year.
I asked about Chattanooga and he said they had their fingers crossed for a 2018 opening, and even told me the site they were considering. These things have a habit of not coming true so I’ll refrain from sharing it, but I’m going to keep my eyes open and my fingers crossed as well. It would be nice to get a gallon of “hint of orange” tea on my way home from work instead of driving an hour and a half for it.
Petro’s Chili & Chips
7005 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919
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