Kingsport’s 12 Bones Restaurant was one of the most exciting new business creations in a long time.

When this unique downtown Kingsport eatery opened one block down from our offices, it was all the rage and the word spread quickly. Pretty soon, everyone was talking about the great eats and environment – they served over 25,000 in the first few months they were open.

Unfortunately, the restaurant seems to be losing some of its appeal because the food’s just not what it used to be. Seems like every week that goes by, the conversation at lunch turns to discouraging reports and many folks are starting to head back out to Stone Drive when it comes to the mid-day graze.

I was one of their biggest fans too and although I’m sure they can get this place “back on the racks,” the truth is, something’s missing. The buzz seems to be over and unless something changes, this place may another “remember when” story for Downtown Kingsport.

It wasn’t long ago, the barbecue was voted one of the best in the South by ABC’s Good Morning America. That was when they were serving up the recipes that migrated over from the original franchise location in Asheville.

It may the original owners have re-focused their efforts on other business ventures.

Jeff Lane, one of the original entrepreneurs was seen everyday at 12 Bones. Together with the opening staff, they were making friends all across town with extraordinary food and grins and his touch seems to have disappeared.

When they started to bring up the Kingsport Grocery Company, it seemed all their attention was refocused and that’s when the small things seemed to wane.

12 Bones is changing their name and according to earlier press, breaking away from the original franchise. Although their founders remain optimistic about the future, stating they will let the public choose the new name and add live music – no word on that yet, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed. At best, it’s good to know a cold beer is right down the street, but the Grocery Company seems to be a better place for that.

Ok. Early on, it may have been just an occasional faux-paux. They were out of chicken, one of my favorites, so I went somewhere else. They got rid of their extra-spicy jalapeno and mustard barbecue sauces and paired down to two typical condiments.

One of the unique attributes to this restaurant from day one was the metal plates they served their food on. Someone recently referred to those plates as “cowboy plates,” but those are gone too. Last week, my white plate was a bit dirty and lacked the character of the original idea.

Several folks have commented on the smaller portions too. Seems a smaller scoop is behind the counter and even though the prices were a bit steep, it used to seem like a good value, but even that’s changed.

Another colleague pointed out the managers comments recently about no portabella mushrooms due to less frequent shipments from suppliers. Seems the gas crunch is making them tighter to get and even though they decided on another vegetarian plate on their visit, they were equally disappointed at the disguised fried green tomatoes that were actually red.

Like most people, I get bored when a restaurant doesn’t change. Pal’s is the only one in town that seems to get by with the same menu 365 days a year. 12 Bones was really going places and even though some people say the changes are for the better and they are promising live music, I’m thinking that it’s just a simple fact of being spread too far, too fast and too thin.

Seems they are eager to open more restaurants too. Several business owners keep receiving visitors in Downtown looking to buy buildings, but adding more restaurants may not be as important as keeping a level of quality and excitement that patrons come to expect.

I certainly hope they get the message too because I was a believer, but lately, the skeptic in me has my appetite heading back out to Stone Drive looking for a little for something a bit more dependable.