Steamboat Sandwiches' storefront only needs a hand-painted window to mark its territory in the restaurant-loaded Market Square. The sandwiches speak loud and clear.
Donnie Anderson, founder, spent a good portion of his life traveling the carnival circuit with his family, before marrying his wife, Dana. They eventually opted out of the nomadic lifestyle and settled in Knoxville to raise their family.
"When my dad was conceptualizing, he thought about a submarine sandwich, which is long and narrow. Dad preferred the wide, flatter bread, and he thought it looked like a steamboat," Maggie Cole, one of the Anderson daughters, explained. "There are a lot of Southern associations with the steamboat, and the name just stuck."
When Donnie decided to retire, his daughters, Rita Anderson and Cole, picked up the legacy. They invited Andrea Summers, a life-long friend, to co-own the shop, and they haven't looked back.
Central Avenue hosted the restaurant for 20 years, but the three ladies made a decision to relocate. Market Square offered a small, yet spacious new home, squished between Soccer Taco and Shonos in the City, and they went with it.
"We love being downtown," Cole said. "A lot of the folks that were coming to eat with us on Central were coming from downtown. It just made sense for us to move, and it's been great."
Russ Wise, a long-time customer, wishes they hadn't moved but doesn't mind the new location.
"When they were on Central Avenue, they were much closer to my home," Wise said. "Since I was at a meeting today in the Hilton, I walked over here for lunch. I'm sure this is a good location – I bet they get a lot of traffic."
Market Square's abundance of dining locations suits Cole and company just fine.
"Whenever there's a highly saturated market, it lets consumers know that this is a food center, and whenever they come downtown, they're going to find something great to eat," Cole said. "We can only benefit from that association."
Steamboat leans not on the positive reputation of its neighbors, but their outstanding products.
The veggie special, stuffed to maximum capacity with alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes, black olives and cheese, offers a fantastic meal option for vegetarians, but the Steamboat sandwich draws in the crowd.
"It's been a long time since I ate my first Steamboat, but I still prefer the salami, ham and cheese sandwich," Wise commented.
Some customers eat the Steamboat sandwich with no reservations.
"We have lots of regulars – some people come in multiple times a week. We even have some who come in twice a day, especially on those Steamboat special days because you just can't beat that deal," Summers said.
The restaurant offers a rotating, daily discount. Some days are half-priced sandwiches, and Wednesday is a "wild-card."
Another highlight the restaurant offers, the sweet lemonade, is made individually.
"We make the lemonade by glass, and we shake each serving separately," Cole said. "That's something that came to us by way of the carnival. They call it the 'shake-up.'"
Everything in the shop works together; the decorations speak of Knoxville's historical heritage and the open kitchen eliminates the barrier between customers and employees.
"Steamboat is kind of like my home," Summers said. "Even though I'm not blood, I feel like family."
The sandwiches served in Steamboat's sliver of space satisfy old and new customers on a regular basis.
"The one thing that I always say, is that Rita and I have been eating this food since we were five and six years old, and we're still not bored," Cole said. "Everyday, we look forward to eating lunch."