Photo Credit: Beall + Thomas Photography
JOSEPH LENN - Chef + Owner
Chef Joseph Lenn, a native of Knoxville, has always had a deep love for East Tennessee. Food has played a major role in the lives of his family members, including his immediate family, as well as his grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom grew up on farms in East Tennessee.
Joseph found his way into the kitchen primarily due to his curiosity. He recalls that one of his first cooking lessons from his mother was simply put, “just don’t burn them.” His interest in cooking heightened after high school while working at Butler & Bailey Market in Knoxville. Quality ingredients from the market led to cooking for friends and family after work, and it was the enjoyment of these gatherings that led him to the decision to attend culinary school.
Joseph left East Tennessee in 1999 to attend Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, SC. His professional cooking career began following his first year of culinary school, when he accepted an internship under Chef John Fleer at Blackberry Farm. During his second year at JWU, Joseph began working for Chef Robert Carter at Charleston’s Peninsula Grill, where he remained for three years. While there, he cooked alongside Sean Brock, who invited him to be on the opening team at The Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grill in Nashville, TN, which he happily accepted.
After two years in Nashville, Joseph longed to return to East TN, and he was able to work with Chef John Fleer again at Blackberry Farm. Soon he was promoted to Sous Chef, and after 5 years in a variety of positions, Joseph Lenn became Executive Chef of the Barn Restaurant there. During his tenure he was named a Grand Chef by Relais and Chateaux, and he received the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2013, the first chef in Tennessee to win this prestigious award. After a decade at Blackberry Farm, Joseph decided in April 2015 to undertake the challenge of opening his own restaurant.
He chose the Daylight building in downtown Knoxville, on the corner of Union Avenue and Walnut Avenue, one block from Market Square. Joseph has had his eye on this space, a former photography studio, since cooking on the sidewalk at the location for a dinner honoring close friend Allan Benton in 2011. In 2016 he opened J.C. Holdway (named after a special uncle), which celebrates foods from the Southeast, cooked by wood-fire.
Erin O'Connell - General Manager
Erin is an East Tennessee transplant, born and raised in Northeast Ohio. Erin’s mother was determined to keep her busy, so she grew up involved in anything and everything — sports, music, theater. Erin’s mother worked for a Cleveland newspaper as a features editor and writer, who wrote about restaurants, events and food. Erin enjoyed countless hours in the newspaper’s test kitchen helping with recipe testing, and going out to eat with her mother’s colleagues. Growing up in this environment fueled Erin's passion for the hospitality industry, people and restaurants.
Erin attended Ohio State University as a history major, and planned to attend law school. During this time she began working for The Blackwell Inn. She quickly discovered that the hospitality industry would be a vastly more rewarding career path. Erin fell in love with the high energy enviroment, meeting new people, and making connections with guests.
After working three months at The Blackwell Inn, Erin changed her major at Ohio State University, and graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Hospitality Management. Erin spent five years at The Blackwell Inn working a variety of positions, and was promoted to management during her tenure there.
Looking to expand her experience in the industry, Erin accepted a position within The Barn at Blackberry Farm in 2013. Erin dedicated four years there, fine-tuning her hospitality skills, service, and knowledge in wine and spirits. Erin is incredibly grateful to be part of a team that won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Service in 2015. While at The Barn Erin was promoted from Server to Bar Captain, then Bar & Dining Room Supervisor.
Erin wanted to expand her management skills in 2017, and she took on the position of Restaurant Manager with Drew McDonald at The Plaid Apron Restaurant in Knoxville. The desire to expand her wine knowledge more led Erin to dip into the retail side of wine at Knoxville's Downtown Wine & Spirits, and J.C. Holdway as a bartender. Erin was promoted to General Manager in October 2019 at J.C. Holdway.
Tonya Combs - Office Administrator
Tonya joined J.C. Holdway in 2016, after spending most of the past decade in Charleston, SC, where she was surrounded by amazing restaurants and enjoyed being part of a talented hospitality and culinary community. As a past member of a James Beard Award-winning team, Tonya has diverse work experience at Charleston restaurants, including McCrady’s and Husk, as well as The Capitol Grille in Nashville,TN.
Tonya met Chef Joseph Lenn in 1999 while living in Charleston, and they continued to maintain their friendship through the years. When it was time for Chef Lenn to open J.C. Holdway, he knew Tonya was the perfect choice to serve as the General Manager, and would bring with her the skills necessary to provide an unforgettable experience to guests.
Tonya left J.C. Holdway in 2017 when her son was born, and moved to Charlotte, NC, to be closer to family. Tonya soon accepted a position in 2018 with Haymaker Restaurant as their Event & Social Media Manager. She returned to Knoxville in December 2019 with her family saying, “Knoxville just feels like home, and this is where I want to raise my son.” Tonya rejoined J.C. Holdway in September 2019 as the Office Administrator.