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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

it all began at the world's fair

did you know that the ice cream cone came in to being during a world's fair? yep. it did. it wasn't invented at the 1904 st. louis world's fair, but did become popular there, and really there is quite the controversy surrounding just who invented it. but the idea of a portable, completely edible treat caught the fair by storm, and the rest, they say, is history.
in 1982, the world came to knoxville, tennessee for a world's fair, formerly known as the knoxville international energy exposition (thankfully, it was called the 1982 world's fair, because, frankly, it sounds like an international nerd convention). it's interesting to note that the whole idea about having this type of a fair came from spokane, washington, where there was a world's fair in 1974. interesting because one of the most popular food items to come out of that fair was dreamed up by a couple from spokane.
they brought their little concept to the 82 fair, and what followed, was the sort of thing people only dream about.

initially called a petroleum belly (remember, the theme of the fair was energy), then shortened to petro belly, then just to petro, it consisted of a small frito bag, turned on its side, the top of the bag snipped off, then filled with delicious chili.

topped with grated cheese, diced tomatoes, chopped green onions and a dollop of sour cream, the petro garnered so much attention that folks lined up in massive lines to sample the treat, and petro's chili & chips was born.
petro's made a follow-up apprearance at the 1984 expo in new orleans to a similar response. people went crazy for the simple treat. and this is where the hubs and his brother come into the story. both guys, along with their parents had a venue at the 82 world's fair, and after their success there, came to new orleans to ride the wave of another lucrative fair. it was there they met up with the couple from spokane, and were surprised to learn that petro's hadn't been developed at all between fairs. it was then the wheels in their brains began to turn and they began to put in motion their quest to see petro's become a national brand (since mr. and mrs. spokane seemed disinterested in making that happen). 
soon after the end of the world's fair in new orleans, the hubs and his brother acquired the rights to develop petro's east of the mississippi and quickly went about putting the pieces into place. they secured a location, began developing their own logo'd bags in which to serve the petro, and developed the look and branding for the restaurant, which opened up on friday the 13th of sepetember 1985 in the new food court at west town mall in knoxville. people who had grown to love petro's at the fair were thrilled to have their coveted treat available anytime, and petro's enjoyed wild success their first two years in business.
the second petro's opened up in 1987 on the other side of town, and it was with this expansion that the brothers decided that the awkward bag/pouch had to go, and the petro began to be served in a barrel.
over the years, expansion has been hit and miss. economic downturns of the early 90s slowed the growth and the brothers were cautious about growing too quickly. after almost a decade of striving to break into the university of tennessee athletic market (the first name brand chain to do so), opened up a venue at neyland stadium in the early  2000s, followed by additional venues at the stadium and also at the tompson-boling basketball arena.

our partnership with UT has been a great relationship and just this fall we expanded into their university center in the rocky top cafe.
early this year, petro's partnered up with the pool's restaurant group in atlanta, ga, which will give us the expertice and financial backing to really begin to move forward. we're excited about the merger, as one of our partners is seth salzman, the co-founder of moe's. just after the partnership was announced, we sold our first two franchises and will be opening in crossville and cookville, tn in the next several weeks.
i've done the marketing and creative work since day one, although i worked in design for other companies like whittle communications until petro's could afford to hire me. we're excited about this new venture and just hope that the economic struggles of the past few years is about to be behind us and can look forward to a bright future.


  1. wow!!! that is such a cool story...I had no idea...I mean I knew the resturant you guys owned but really didn't know what a petro was!! NOW I WANT ONE! when I come visit??? yes?

  2. looks yummy... and what a neat story - I cant wait to see how it grows!

    Any free samples availabe... :)

  3. so exciting. Good luck on your new endeavors and while I have never eaten there, it sure does look good!!

  4. Since I cannot have a Petro's, I am going to eat an ice cream cone in an homage to you, your odd chili thing--that looks delightful, and to fairs...

  5. Oh my... this is an AWESOME story! I had been to your website, but didn't know how you guys got into the biz. Sounds like your husband and his brother are VERY smart men. Seriously, at a young age to see a market for a certain business and then take the risk to start it up, and to have half of the United States as their territory... Smart, confident guys. VERY impressed!

  6. That is so exciting. What a great person to be at your back. I love the idea. I love to eat chili just that way. I wish you so much success. Put one near me in California and I will be a regular!


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