Known for steak and seafood, the Chop House and Connor's tempt food lovers from Georgia to Ohio.
"I've always enjoyed food," explained owner Mike Connor.
He's been sharing the East Tennessee taste for decades. Mike grew up just a few miles from the Chop House in Fountain City.
"Periodically, I'll drive down Cedar Lane and go off Polo Drive which is where we lived and see the old the house. We'd walk everywhere. We'd ride bikes everywhere," said Connor.
As a kid, he was all about the water. "My wife and I met on the swim team at Catholic High," stated Connor.
In college at UT, he cooked up a new passion for the restaurant business.
"A bunch of frat brothers were working at a place on the strip called Steak and Ale," said Connor.
He was working with his longtime sidekick and fellow restaurateur, Rick Federicko who is the current CEO of PF Changs.
"I was actually graduating in psychology. I didn't really like it, but I really enjoyed the restaurant industry," said Connor.
So, after graduation, he got a management job at Red Lobster and got married. A few months later, Steak and Ale called.
"The first five years we were married, we lived in Nashville, Birmingham, Chattanooga and we were back in Knoxville for a couple of years. And then, they moved us to Dallas for three years," said Connor.
However, home began calling him by way of Bill Regas.
"He said, 'We've got this idea of a restaurant concept here,'" explained Connor.
Connor really wasn't interested, but the Regas family was persistent. Finally, the opportunity was too good to pass up and, Grady's restaurant was born. It's was an instant success, so much so other restaurateurs began to take notice.
"They said, 'We've been to your place and we've been thinking about your building. We think it'd be better if we do it together," explained Connor.
The creator of both Steak & Ale & Chili's acquired the concept in 1989. And Connor continued to oversee Grady's, but the restaurants were expanding to California, Michigan and Texas.
"We had just built a house in Knoxville and loved it and didn't want to leave," said Connor.
So, he parted ways and decided to focus on Knoxville. Connor's Concept was born. The first restaurant, The Chop House in Franklin Square, opened in 1992. Since then, Mike has not only grown the Chop House, he's also developed a second concept, Connor's Steak and Seafood. To date, there are 15 restaurants in five states.
"The biggest reason we've grown and the biggest reason I was able to do well at Grady's and here is because I've been able to retain great staff," said Connor.
While he doesn't see himself completely retiring, Mike and his wife do plan to travel and spend more time with their four children and two grandchildren. "We'll always be back here," he said.
Mike Connor, born in Fountain City. HomeGrown in Tennessee.
"I don't know anything to be but a Knoxvillian. That's just the way that I've grown up," said Connor.
Connor's Concept will open the 16th restaurant in Florida next year.