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New Gainesboro restaurant to play off Bull & Thistle success

Liz Engel Clark
Tuesday, Jun 4, 2013


Kent Birdwell is the proprietor behind Bight of the Bend, a new restaurant set to open in Gainesboro in July.

GAINESBORO – Is it possible that Gainesboro is becoming the new Mecca for fine dining in the Upper Cumberland?

Riding on the coattails of the recently opened Celtic pub, Bull & Thistle, is another restaurant venture that’s hoping to bring growth to the city’s historic downtown square. Bight of the Bend, which aims to carry a barbecue theme, is targeting a July debut.

Kent Birdwell, a Whitleyville native who was among the staffers at Jackson Bank and Trust prior to its sale in 2005, is behind the venture. He hopes to use his recent world travels – he earned his MBA in South Africa, assisted in several humanitarian efforts in different impoverished nations and worked most recently at a microfinance bank in Burundi – as well as the recipes he learned along the way, to “influence the flavor and cuisine of traditional American barbecue.”

The restaurant will be his first dabbling into such a business.

“The Upper Cumberland and Gainesboro, it has so much potential,” he said. “I’ve been considering this restaurant downtown for years, but I haven’t had the courage because I’ve never been in the business. After the Bull & Thistle went in, I met with the owners and it’s given me a little more courage to take the leap. I think it just illustrates the potential of small towns that can leverage their natural resources.”

Bight of the Bend – bight being a term used by riverboat captains in the past to describe the tip of the river’s curve, which Birdwell says describes Gainesboro to a T – will initially only open two days a week, Friday and Saturday nights, tentatively from 6-9 p.m. The menu will be simple – maybe around three entree items – and the price point upper mid range, around $15-20.

“Starting out, I want to keep it small and quaint and special,” Birdwell said. “I hope I get bigger, but more importantly, I hope it adds to the atmosphere in Gainesboro.”

He admittedly has little kitchen experience. But that’s not going to hold him back, he said.

“I have a dangerous business model,” he admitted. “One, I’m only doing it a couple days a week, and two, the only experience I’ve had was when I was backpacking in Europe last year. I went to Turkey, and at this restaurant, I paid this five-star chef $300 to give me lessons in the kitchen. I worked there a week learning Turkish cuisine, how to cook and how to manage a small business.

“I’m gong to keep the menu simple and focus on the entertainment and quality,” he added.

Birdwell hopes to hire around two to four employees. He’s hoping the restaurant’s limited hours will also give him a chance to pursue a Ph.D. degree during the week.

Bight of the Bend will be located on Hull Avenue downtown – in the former Paula’s Restaurant building – and hopes to open next month. For more information, visit www.bightofthebend.com. More information will be added to the site in coming weeks, he said.

Editor's note: Bight of the Bend is still on pace for an opening this year. Birdwell said they are now targeting October (updated 8/22/13).

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