Friday, July 7, 2017

DOING THE WORK: a visit with the Mountain Goat Market

Part Two of Leap of Faith week on 40 Lunches.  There have been moments in my life when I’ve taken a leap of faith and the rewards have been significant.  With every leap I’ve taken, I’ve found ground to stand on when I land.  As I get older, those moments have become fewer and more calculated.  I sat down for lunch with two young entrepreneurs whose willingness to take risks and do the work I find inspiring.

Often, I have fanaticized about opening a coffee shop, a bakery, a bookstore, or perhaps a hybrid of all three.  I’ve even gone so far as to look at properties and draw out floor plans.  But never have I had the courage to follow through.

But Eric and Spenser Duncan did.  Feeling unfulfilled by their jobs, they risked everything to open the Mountain Goat Market in Monteagle, Tennessee.

The couple met when Spenser was a senior in high school.  After getting a degree in English she went to work at the local middle school.  But she quickly realized she didn’t want to be a teacher.  Having spent high school and college working in restaurants Spenser knew she loved the fast pace. Named after the local Mountain Goat trail, the Mountain Goat Market was born. 

The building itself has lived many lives.  It originally housed a Grayhound station in the 1940’s before eventually becoming a gas station and market.  When Eric and Spenser purchased the property, the building was in disrepair.  Eric, a certified electrician, was able to do much of the work himself.  Spenser’s dad, who owns a tree removal business, brought in equipment to help clear out decades of junk that had accumulated.  Dumpster after dumpster was hauled away until they were left with just the bare bones.  Then the real transformation began.  Power washing revealed the original sign on what was once the exterior wall of the building.  They worked seven days a week renovating the property and after 6 months of hard labor, the Mountain Goat Market finally opened.

While they were renovating they were also experimenting with recipes. Others told her to stick with Southern home cooking, but Spenser had a clear vision for what she wanted the market to be.  When they first opened, Spenser’s grandmother was doing all of their baking.  Now they have someone who bakes for them full time, but they still use many of her grandmother’s recipes. 

They’ve now been open for 3 ½ years.  While much of their business comes from college students and people with weekend homes in the area, locals are grateful for a place to get good food in a family-friendly atmosphere.  They serve a wide variety of gourmet salads and sandwiches, and recently added brick oven pizzas made-to-order.

They also offer unique gift items.  Spenser selects everything herself, going to market in Atlanta to shop.  But she’s also committed to offering local artisans a showcase for their merchandise.  You can buy candles, soaps, and granola made in the area.  “At first it was hard to get people to place their items,” she tells me, “but now I have people asking all the time.”

She credits much of their success to their dedicated employees.  Five of their employees have been with them since the beginning and she leans on them when needed. She explains, “People ask us why we don’t bring in someone to manage the place, but I think our employees respect us because we are right here working with them side-by-side.”

A year and a half ago, Spenser and Eric welcomed their son, Linkoln.  Balancing their work and family life has been a challenge, but thanks to the support of friends and family, they make it work.  They are closed on Sunday and Monday to provide them with sacred family time.  They also trade off working nights so that one of them is always home with him in the evening. 

We sit at a back table on a rainy afternoon.  It’s a little past two o’clock, and even though the lunch rush has passed, it’s still busy.  Spenser steals away to talk while she eats a bowl of soup.  We talk about the challenges. As the business has grown they’ve taken on more employees, most of whom are students.  With no formal training in running a business, they've had to learn as they go. “The biggest challenge has been the responsibility,” she confides.  It's exhausting." We agree there is a certain amount of satisfaction that comes with seeing your dream become a reality.  At the end of the day, the rewards out way the challenges.

Check out the Mountain Goat Market on Facebook and Instagram.
Did you enjoy this post?  Read Part 1 of Doing The Work, then share it with a friend.


  1. That sounds exciting! I've never worked in a restaurant, but I think I"d enjoy it if I did. I like meeting people and chatting. It must really take a leap of faith to open your own business and this family must be commended for making it work!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read! Every time I go to their restaurant I feel like I'm not only getting a good meal, but I'm supporting good people.

  2. This is a dream I've often entertained, too, but I just don't have the stomach for that kind of risk. Kudos to Eric and Spenser for taking the leap and making the dream a reality.

    1. Oh, I still dream the dream, but I don't know if I'll ever have the courage. In the meantime, I'm happy to support those who do. Thanks for reading!