Local company jumps on EV Project

Restaurants offer vehicle charging stations to customers
Feb. 02, 2013 @ 12:15 AM

At its Sevier County eateries, the Johnson Family of Restaurants provides electric-vehicle charging stations. The chargers, which have been in place since 2011, are helpful to owners of cars such as the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt.

“The Nissan Leaf is all-electric,” said the Johnson Family’s Jonathan Wimmer. “It has a range of about 100 miles. So if someone drives here from Knoxville or further, they love the opportunity to charge.”

Mainly, said Wimmer, the charging stations send a message.

“I don’t think, objectively, the number is overwhelming,” said Wimmer, referring to chargers’ usage rate. “It doesn’t really matter to us. We did it to encourage people to drive electric cars.”

The Johnson Family of Restaurants operates Mama’s Farmhouse in Pigeon Forge, Bennett’s Pit Bar-B-Que in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the Alamo Steakhouse in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and Big Daddy’s Pizzeria in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.

The company’s chargers are part of the EV Project, a national network of charging stations that is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. Wimmer pursued the charger program after the EV Project hosted a meeting about it in Knoxville.

“I don’t know that anyone else was there from Sevier County,” he recalled. “I think I was one of the first respondents.”

The Johnson company’s electric-vehicle chargers were among the first in East Tennessee, Wimmer said. The city of Gatlinburg provides charging stations at its two downtown garages.

“We try to do things like this when we can,” Wimmer said. “I guess it’s a way of giving back to the community. It’s a good, solid program.”

Customers grateful for the charging stations thank the company on comment cards, Wimmer noted, and via text he receives pictures of people using the chargers.

Driving electric vehicles is the right choice, Wimmer said. Even so, he noted, “I know it’s not the ideal choice, because the electricity that powers the vehicles has to come from somewhere.”

Primarily, Wimmer said, electric transportation helps reduce “our dependence on foreign sources of oil. It’s also about reducing pollution on the roads.”

His company’s charging stations are, he said, “a small way of doing our part.”