Melinda and Jim Ethier do a little shopping in the gift shop. Jim, the chairman emeritus of Bush Brothers, is the grandson of the founder, A.J. Bush.
When Alan and I signed up to go to Knox Heritage’s Summer Supper at the Bush Brothers canning plant in Chestnut Hill last weekend, we expected that we’d have beans as part of our dinner. But I never dreamed they would be featured in the dessert! Yep. And we’re here to tell you that pinto bean pie is delicious! (More on that later.)
Bush Brothers traces its history to 1904 when founder A.J. Bush partnered with the Stokely family to open a tomato cannery in Chestnut Hill. The business proved so successful that in 1908, Bush bought out the Stokelys and established his own independent business with the help of his two oldest sons, giving birth to Bush Brothers & Company. All the while, the family continued to operate a general store that Bush had opened in 1897 near the plant.
“My grandfather’s first love was always that store,” confided Jim Ethier, the company’s chairman emeritus, when he addressed the Knox Heritage group on Saturday. “He loved interacting with people.”
Over the years, Bush Brothers got out of the tomato business and opted to concentrate on beans. Today, 80 percent of canned baked beans sold in the United States are Bush beans. That’s 55 million pounds a year, in case you were wondering.
After 99 years, the old store closed, but has been recently re-opened as a visitor center, gift shop and museum. More than 150,000 guests will pass through it every year. We were happy to be among them.
Even the bus ride from Knoxville to Chestnut Hill was fun. Scott Morrell was in charge of passing out wine and water.
Wow, the sky seems a lot closer in Chestnut Hill! The plant is huge. We were not allowed to tour it, though, for sanitary reasons.
Here’s the store and museum located across the street from the plant.
Inside this big bean can are video screens explaining every part of the bean canning process. Very cool.
One surprising thing we learned: the beans are actually cooked AFTER they are put in the can! Who knew?
What do you eat with beans? Franks! These were offered as snacks.
A display from the old days when Bush Brothers was primarily a tomato cannery.
Michael Combs, left, and Alan Carmichael at the entrance to the theater.
Drew Everett, the great-grandson of A.J. Bush, is the current board chair. He introduced the short film on the company’s history.
Kim Trent, executive director of Knox Heritage, with Jim Ethier after the film.
Everyone exited through the gift shop, as you do at every good museum!
Sharon Kreis was on the host committee for this Summer Supper.
Alan posed with cutouts of Jay Bush and his dog, Duke. The pair have starred in Bush’s very successful ad campaign since 1994. The recurring theme is Duke trying to sell the “secret family recipe.”
Dinner was across the street under a huge tent set up beside a historic house. “My mother grew up in this house,” Jim Ethier said over dinner. “And I grew up in this house.”
Mickey Mallonee, chair of the committee that organized this Summer Supper, posing beside a very well-preserved truck.
Todd Morgan, left, and Steven Hinkle also were volunteer hosts of the event.
Michelle McMahan was a great bartender. Loved it when I saw her with a bottle of my favorite pinot grigio!
It was festive under the tent.
The buffet is open!
Dinner is served!
Erin Chady going through the buffet.
Lydia Birk and Michael Toomey.
Marla and John Peterson.
Great name for a barbecue sauce!
Bobby Brown, left, and Todd Richesin.
Fred Campbell, left, and Steve Russell.
Barbara Garrow making sure everyone had a full wine glass.
Debbie Emery, left, and Robin Smith.
Jane and Rich Ray.
Lane Hays and Stuart Worden.
Kim Trent, left, and Katie King.
Fanny and Ray Smith. He helped us get safely across the street earlier.
John and Beth Thurman.
Super appropriate centerpieces!
Then, a tour of the house before dessert. The house, which has four bedrooms, is still in use for guests of the company.
One of the bedrooms.
An 8-day time and calendar clock that hung in A.J. Bush’s office in the old store.
Cobbler was served up for dessert.
But I opted for pinto bean pie!
It’s fantastic! Click here for the recipe. And call me when it’s ready!
Here’s Mickey again with Max Fultz, the manager of Bush’s Visitor Center and manager of community relations for the company.
This was another fun sellout event for Knox Heritage. Thanks to everyone at Bush Brothers for offering the opportunity and being such gracious hosts.