Temptation Corridor: These beloved Southern treats were invented in East Tennessee

The announcement that Mars Inc. would begin producing its new hazelnut M&Ms this in Cleveland, Tennessee, may have seemed random, but it actually makes perfect sense. The I-75 path from Knoxville to Chattanooga might well be called “Temptation Corridor,” because many of America’s favorite treats were invented along this 100-odd mile stretch of East Tennessee. Here are six foods this part of the country has brought to the world – not counting those M&Ms.

Little Debbie

There are currently some 75 varieties of Little Debbie treats, including the original and still-most-popular variety, Oatmeal Crème Pies, according the company website. The other most popular varieties are the Swiss Cake Rolls and the Nutty Bars Wafer Bars.

O.D. McKee, founder of McKee Foods, launched Little Debbie in 1960, naming the brand after his 4-year-old granddaughter.


The first Krystal restaurant opened in October of 1932 at the corner of Seventh and Cherry streets in Chattanooga. Founders Rody Davenport Jr. and J. Glenn Sherrill aimed to offer an economic option for diners during the Great Depression, and their idea stuck.

There are currently 352 Krystal locations throughout the South – from Florida to Kentucky and from Virginia to Louisiana – including 95 in Tennessee.

Krystal is often regarded as a Southern alternative to White Castle, which was founded in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921, because both restaurants specialize in small slider burgers. Most of the 420 or so White Castles are in the Midwest and Northeast. In general, Krystals are considered more tangy (thanks to the mustard), and their buns are thought to be denser.

Mountain Dew

Brothers Barney and Ally Hartman, who moved to Knoxville from Georgia in the 1930s, created a lemon-lime mixer drink they called Mountain Dew, shopped it at a beverage convention in Gatlinburg in 1946 and trademarked the soda a couple years later. The drink, the name of which is a winking nod to a nickname for moonshine, was eventually bought by Pepsi, and the formula has been modified since its inception. Mountain Dew has maintained its position as the fourth most-popular soft drink in America (Diet Mountain Dew is also in the Top 10) for more than a decade, and it is among the most highly caffeinated soft drinks on the market. (A 12-ounce serving has 54.8 mg of caffeine compared to 49.5 for its rival Mello Yello, 33.9 mg for Coca-Cola and 38.9 mg for Pepsi.) That’ll keep folks awake on those long Southern road trips.


A Chattanooga bakery began producing MoonPies when traveling salesman Earl Mitchell came up with the idea in 1917. The treat was originally a graham-cracker-and marshmallow confection coated in chocolate, but additional flavors have been introduced over the past century, including banana, strawberry, salted caramel and vanilla flavors. They’re also available in mini and double-decker sizes.

Today’s MoonPies are produced at Chattanooga Bakery. Aficionados often wash them down with an RC Cola, and some prefer them microwaved to get the full s’mores effect.

Mayfield Ice Cream

Mayfield Dairy, about halfway between Knoxville and Chattanooga in Athens, Tennessee, is popular for its milk and tea products, but the company’s ice cream is the cherry on top of the Mayfield reputation.

Mayfield ice cream, first created in 1923, is sold across the South from Mississippi to Virginia and the Carolinas, and also from Florida north to Ohio.

Mayfield ice creams are distinguished by their buttermilk-based recipes. Some of their more distinctive flavors include Turtle Tracks and Moose Tracks, as well as more traditional varieties including Black Walnut, Southern Butter Pecan and Neapolitan.


Petro’s, a spin on the taco pie, debuted at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville and featured chili and other toppings served with Fritos corn chips inside a Fritos bag.

Today, the Petro includes Fritos corn chips or pasta plus original or vegetarian chili, cheddar and jack cheeses, diced tomatoes, green onions and sour cream. Jalapenos are also available, and there are additional toppings featured on the Premium Petro.

The company’s “Hint of Orange” tea is also a popular menu standby.

Petro’s has locations throughout East Tennessee, with a new one coming to Maryville, and it’s worth noting Petro’s Chili Sauce is available from retailers.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Chuck Campbell

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org


Published April 9, 2019