Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro
A restaurant is only as good as the people who bring passion and expertise to the table. At the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro, we are carrying on the proud tradition started at the Dancing Bear Lodge and looking forward to offering a world-class dining experience in Townsend, TN.
Mark Oldham-Founder & Owner
Mark Oldham’s love affair with restaurants began with his first job at age 14, working at Miss Daisy’s Tea Room in Franklin, TN. Miss Daisy was a family friend and Mark was driven to work by his Mom every day during the summer. “Miss Daisy King” has since grown to become a much celebrated Southern Chef and has published numerous cookbooks. Mark also worked in restaurants all through college to support himself.
After graduating from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 1983, Mark initially pursued a career in hotel management, becoming the youngest general manager ever at the Knoxville Sheraton/ Best Western Campus Inn. He and his Dad then purchased the Regis Inn in Huntsville, Alabama, intent on growing a small regional chain.
Those plans never came to fruition as Mark started a small publishing company, U. S. Hospitality, that catered to tourists by selling ads in hotel guest directories and placing publications in guest rooms. Soon, U. S. Hospitality made the INC 500 and the race was on. Mark built this company into a 100 person thriving business, took on a partner, and renamed the company Uniguest in 2006. The company recorded revenues of $24 million before selling in 2014 to Atlantic Street Capital of Stamford, CT.
Throughout his career, Mark never lost interest in hotels and restaurants as he purchased the StoneFort Inn as a sideline business during his last few years with Uniguest. Eventually, Mark met David Mitchell and the two brainstormed the concept for an Appalachian Bistro on the first floor of the historic Inn in Chattanooga. The TerraMáe restaurant opened on 12/12/12. Mark sold the inn and restaurant in the fall of 2015.
In the fall of 2014, Mark and his wife, Sharon, found the opportunity to acquire the Dancing Bear Lodge, which was recovering from a fire that destroyed the lodge and its restaurant a year earlier. In January 2015, the Oldhams announced plans to invest in a multi-million dollar project over several years, including restoration of a restaurant on the grounds. The Oldhams also purchased the Apple Valley Country Stores & Café next door. With the new Dancing Bear restaurant and the Lodge Event Center now a reality, this is a very exciting time for Mark and Sharon.
They maintain “gentleman’s farm” where much of the produce is grown for the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro during the warm months.
Shelley Cooper, Executive Chef & Head of Culinary Operations
Shelley Cooper was born in Memphis, Tennessee, into a family that revolved around a bountiful table always filled with farm fresh Southern cuisine. Her maternal family hails from the Mississippi Delta, and her father from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She credits this combination with providing her Southern culinary roots.
Both families placed a high regard for fresh, seasonal, and ‘made from scratch’ foods, as well as instilling the appreciation of pure simple ingredients. Shelley could not help but to be positively affected by such inherent passion.
She was professionally trained at Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute in Charleston, South Carolina and The San Francisco Baking Institute. Chef Shelley honed her craft at Belfair Club in Hilton Head, South Carolina, 30° Blue at Bay Point Resort in Florida, Craggy Range Winery in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, First and Hope Supper Club in Los Angeles, Alaska Expedition on the Gulf of Alaska, Monettes Artisan Seafood on the big island of Hawaii, and TerraMáe Appalachian Bistro in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Now she is tapping into her true roots and fully embracing her heritage at Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee. The culmination of her life travels and culinary passion have merged to create her unique version of highbrow Appalachian fare.
Some of her career highlights include:
- Recipe testing / editing Great Chefs of the South Cookbook series on PBS
- Recipe testing / editing Charleston Cuisine Cookbook
- Cover of Bon Appetite in 1997 featured in ‘Pastry Chefs at Play’
- Food Arts spotlight story September 1998, ‘New Digs in Old Charleston
- Good Housekeeping Magazine, June 2005, ‘Grill Girls’
- Food and Wine Magazine, September 2010 ‘Where to Go Next: Southern’
- Youngest board member of Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA)
- Formerly the Chef at TerraMáe while it was named “…one of Chattanooga’s buzziest new restaurants” – Travel + Leisure 2013
- TerraMáe cited by The New York Times magazine as “where to eat” in the “outdoorsy” and “cool” Chattanooga.
- Mentioned in Fodors “A Foodie’s Guide to Chattanooga” 2013