KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – After a family tragedy led to the closure of Kingsport’s Wheeler’s Bagels location, business owner Brian Bishop is happy to announce that the business is returning to operation under new ownership.
“There were several folks locally who were interested, and we tried to let some of that play out,” Bishop said. “And see if anybody locally wanted to come in and have a franchise. After the death of our son, it’s just too hard for my wife and I to continue to run this location.”
After the death of Brodie Livesay from sudden cardiac arrest, the Bishop family was thrown into turmoil. The business located at 935 Wilcox Court closed its doors and was listed for sale late last year.
This year, Brian was hoping that a sale to local entrepreneurs would bring Wheeler’s back, but financing didn’t work out. Instead, the Wheeler family, who owns and operates the Wheeler’s Bagels in Johnson City, bought the space and are reopening it just how it was.
“Somebody’s going to do very well here and the Wheelers know that,” Bishop said. “So with local interest waning, they decided that they wanted the shop.”
Eric Wheeler, the location’s new owner, said he could not stand to see Brian’s work go to waste.
“I really wanted to keep this place open, we talked about it a lot,” Wheeler said. “We love Kingsport, we love the community here, we love the community in Johnson City.”
Now the Wheelers are just working on paperwork and preparation — the Kingsport business space remains unchanged since closing.
“We’ve got a couple days of prep and getting ready to open our doors,” Wheeler said. “We’ve got to bake muffins and cookies. We do everything from scratch, we even make our bagel bases from scratch.”
The location is set to open around the middle of next week, but that largely depends on where permits stand. Staffing of the business has been a challenge as well, and Wheeler said he’s hiring.
“We’re going to have to divide our time between two stores,” Wheeler said. “Right now I think Kingsport’s really going to need more of our attention and we’ve got a couple of employees who were with Brian who are really excited about coming back. And I’ve got my Johnson City employees that are excited to come over here and get to know the Kingsport customers.”
Despite the challenges, Wheeler said he’s excited to see what’s ahead for the business.
“The thing that’s impressed me the most about living up here is the incredibly strong sense of community that you have here,” Wheeler said. “It’s an honor to be a part of it, and we want to continue to be a part of it in Kingsport also.”
Brodie’s story makes the sale more than worth it to Brian.
“For us, there’s a legacy of our son working here. All three of our boys, but the one that we lost in particular,” Bishop said. “To drive by here in 15, 20, 30 years say, it’s still open and it’s still a Wheeler’s, it’s really heartwarming for us.”
It’s not goodbye for Brian and his family either. The Bishop family is still running the Just Bee Diner in Jonesborough, and they plan to stick around Kingsport’s store.
“We’re dear friends with the Wheeler family and just love those guys,” Bishop said. “They’ve become my closest friends and family, so we’ll absolutely still be involved and still be down here eating their bagels as much as I can.”