This monthly blog from The Maker City features a look at some of the Knoxville area’s outstanding makers – artists, crafters and custom builders. This month’s blog showcases maker spaces that you can visit.
Issac Merkle, Knox Makers
How did Knox Makers start?
With a 2010 post on Craigslist soliciting interest in forming a hacker space in Knoxville. Nine folks responded, had a meal together, and ultimately agreed to start what we now know as Knox Makers.They met at each other's houses, then pooled their resources and leased a 900-square-foot space in Oak Ridge's Tech 2020 incubator. Today, we have over 7,000 square feet of workshop space plus a separate blacksmithing building that we built. We'll be expanding again this fall to over 10,000 square feet. Knox Makers is one of the largest, longest-running makerspaces in the country.
Who uses the space? What do they make, and how?
We have over 200 dues-paying members. Some examples: Dee Dee has been working in metal all her life. Paul is a database guru and 3-D printing master. Suzannah focuses on fabric art. Zach teaches music professionally and handcrafts reeds for wind instruments. Tracy is a professional woodworker who has made everything from a bespoke cribbage board to a fighting robot. We have “czars” or “czarinas” for each distinct zone of the workshop. I’m the Electronics Czar!
We provide access to a wide range of tools and a physical space to build, make a mess, and make noise -- as well as peer learning experiences, lectures, hands-on workshops, and group projects. Most importantly, we provide a welcoming, inclusive community of like-minded creators.
Where are you located?
116 Childress St. SW. We share a building with Spark, which provides adaptive technology and services to people with disabilities.
Issac Merkle is a public-interest technologist who’s lived in Knoxville for 27 years. He’s been tinkering with electronics and computers since childhood. Issac joined Knox Makers in 2016 and is currently serving his second full term as president, having previously served as creative director.
Bailey Foster, Real Good Kitchen
How did you get started running an incubator kitchen?
Real Good Kitchen is the culmination of several years of work and a lifetime of love for food and its power to bring people together.It’s inspired by La Cocina, a nationally-known shared commercial kitchen and food business incubator program in San Francisco, where I used to live. I grew up in Knoxville and came back here to be near my family and raise my kids, and I’m passionate about helping to build the community I want to live in. For me that means being a good neighbor and partner in our East Knoxville neighborhood, helping food entrepreneurs tell their food stories and grow successful businesses. I truly believe in the power of food to build community, break down barriers and make lasting change.
What do the makers in your space make, and how?
Food! Locally made food! We currently have 15 members. They include bakers, caterers, food trucks and packaged food makers -- with products ranging from waffles, donuts and chocolate to pimiento cheese, keto treats, vegan meals, barbecue and po’boys. And we’re growing every week.
Our kitchen is equipped with a commercial range and flat-top, grill, stock pot range, convection oven and 20-quart mixer. We have a high-temp dishwasher that makes cleaning up a breeze, and a walk-in cooler and freezer for cold storage. We also have some really useful smaller appliances. Some makers bring more specialized pieces of equipment as well.
Our flexible 24/7 hours and advance reservations make it easy for our members to find a time that works for them. We’re always listening, to figure out what tools they need and how we can continue to make our space and our community the best place for them to grow their businesses.
Where are you located?
2004 East Magnolia Avenue. All of our member businesses and information are listed on therealgoodkitchen.com, under “Membership/Members.” Also facebook.com/RealGoodKitchen/ and instagram.com/realgoodkitchen/. We love to share information on where to get #rgkmake goods.
Knoxville native Bailey Foster grew up in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother. She spent more than 20 years away in New York and San Francisco, working in book publishing, retail grocery, consulting and software development, while exploring food cultures from around the world. Returning to Knoxville in 2013, she found a thriving downtown scene and a growing local food and beverage culture. She conceived of Real Good Kitchen as a facility and a community that would foster greater equity and opportunity in the local food economy, and help us all to eat well.
Bailey is an avid home cook, vegetable lover and dedicated food geek. When she’s not cooking, she enjoys eating, spending time with her wife and two kids, reading, jogging and exploring outdoors.
She currently serves on the board of the Friends of the Knox County Public Library and as an Associate Member of the Knoxville-Knox County Food Policy Council.
Javon Renee, Javon Renee Portraits
You were featured on visitknoxville.com in February as a photographer. Now you’re also offering a maker space. In what ways do you share your studio?
I rent it out to others, whether they need it for their own photo shoots, styling, workshops, small meetings or even just a quiet place to work away from home. I'm always open to other uses as long as there is room for it and it’s on a day I won't be there. The rental process is easy and seamless and I try to make sure they enjoy their stay. There’s beautiful light, refreshments and access to music if needed.
Do you have any new projects you'd like to talk about?
My friend Coy Kindred and I launched luxebrandingsuite.com back in January. We build websites with beautiful imagery for service-based solopreneurs. It has really taken off -- we haven't even had to advertise it much! Right now I am working on the official launch of my coaching platform, Javon Renee Coaching. I have been coaching for two years already but I haven’t been loud about it; I'm excited to really start making noise in that arena. It almost feels just as exciting -- and scary -- as it did when I started Javon Renee Portraits.
Originally from Chicago, IL, Jasmine Newton just can’t stop creating new business ventures. She brings a level of sass and creative ideas to her photographic work and loves to give the experience of beauty and confidence to the women who find themselves in front of her lens. She also mentors female photographers from different parts of the country, helping them to discover their worth and take their business to the next level. She is a wife and mother of two.