January 19, 2020

Bush's Visitor Center Amounts to More than a Hill of Beans

This post represents another installment in The Big Switcheroo series – tales from last spring’s epic journey from the northeast to the Florida Keys and back – involving family, friends and an extraordinary range of adventures.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”  I don’t know who said it, but I’ve heard that quote quite often, and I do believe it’s true.  So many times, we’re looking ahead to the next thing, the next year, the next smartphone, the next project, the next destination.  I’ll counter with another quote, one that has always struck a chord with me:  “Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  Today is a gift; that’s why we call it the present.”  I don’t know who said that one either, but it hasn’t prevented the quote from remaining one of my favorites.  The savviest travelers among us know that, while our destination is the goal, the journey along the way can be just as rewarding.

Alan and I set out from our friends’ home in Virginia on the morning of May 13th with the truck pointed toward the west and the Army Corps of Engineers campground on J. Percy Priest Lake near Nashville the day’s destination.  I keep a list of “trip notes” for every journey we make.  That list details places to visit, activities to enjoy, restaurants to try and intriguing attractions to explore.  My trip notes for last spring included Bush’s (Beans) Visitor Center in Chestnut Hill, Tennessee, near Dandridge.

I truly think that anyone with a good sense of humor must enjoy the Bush family stories about Duke, the dog, trying to steal, sell or otherwise give away the family secrets.  When I found out that the Bush’s Visitor Center was located near our route to Nashville, Alan and I decided it would be a perfect stop along the way.  We had no idea what to expect, but found out that the family’s sense of humor was evident at the company’s Visitor Center in many entertaining ways.

That's me with my friends Duke and Jay Bush!

Right from the start and without a doubt, visitors are made to feel welcome.  Signage approaching the Visitor Center is excellent, and there is a large parking area with designated parking spots for RVs.

RV parking?  Check.

I was quickly drawn to the presence of two antique trucks in front of the Visitor Center which, by the way, is housed in the old General Store that had been operated by the Bush family since the late 1800’s.

I wish they had one of these available in the Gift Shop!

In sifting through my photos, I didn’t find many from the Museum, and the only thing I can think of is that we were having such a delightful time that I was completely distracted from taking my usual number of pics.  (Did you know that Bush’s actually started out as a tomato cannery?!  We didn’t either!)  The Museum was exceptionally well done with the family’s sense of humor and delight consistently on display, along with old photos and family history.  The display containing the Bush family's secret recipe was creative and whimsical.

I can tell you that we walked through a giant can of beans, discovered our weight in beans and even had our photo taken with Duke!  Well, okay, Duke was actually on the backdrop but it was still a great photo!

Well, that's rather disconcerting!

We’ve often found that, when visiting southern states, residents are exceptionally friendly and welcoming, and are often proud of their local history.  The staff members at Bush’s Visitor Center were certainly representative of our past experiences in the south and they do much to enhance that reputation without even trying.  I imagine that Bush’s provides many jobs for area residents, so I would expect some amount of loyalty to a company supporting the local economy so well.  But we could tell that the staff members we met were genuine in their welcome and enjoyed their jobs and conversing with visitors.

After watching a film about Bush’s and working our way through the Museum, Alan and I wandered through the requisite Gift Shop where we were able to purchase some varieties of Bush’s beans that we’ve never seen in the northeast.  I successfully resisted bringing home a plush version of Duke, but it sure wasn’t easy.  (He’s SO adorable!)  Because our visit to Bush’s had been so enjoyable to this point, we decided to try the Family Café for lunch even though we hadn’t planned on it.  Yes, we love that we can travel with our own fridge, pantry and food supply, but regional foods and experiences like the Family Café at Bush’s are an integral part of our travels.  We often seek out specialty shops and restaurants (looking at you Cherry Republic in Michigan!) hoping to find fun-filled and tasty culinary adventures that aren’t available in our neck of the woods.

Lunch awaits!

The Family Café proved to be yet another pleasing facet of the Bush’s Visitor Center experience.  While many restaurants at venues like this tend to be a bit higher priced and have limited menus, the Family Café not only had a reasonably priced menu with plenty of choices, but each guest was offered a sample of the “beans of the day.”  Sure, it’s a great marketing tactic, but there was no sales pitch accompanying the sample and we did not feel pressured in the least to buy anything extra.


I considered the “beans of the day” another opportunity for us to experience something we may not normally have spent money to try, and we enjoyed and appreciated our samples.  Besides, how can you not like a restaurant that offers chairs that come with the company logo and are the exact color of some of its products?!

I can’t recall (and didn’t take any photos of) whatever Alan chose for lunch, but I had the Vegetable Plate – an assortment of four of Bush’s “simple sides” that comes with a choice of cornbread or a dinner roll -  and was impressed with the variety of options, as well as the taste and portion size.  Remember, I said we enjoy trying a variety of regional food experiences; I didn’t say we were gourmet foodies or health nuts.  While we do eat healthfully both at home and on the road, we also don’t let nutritional guidelines get in the way of a good experience.  So, please do NOT criticize me for my choices - and definitely try the Pinto Bean Pecan Pie (because I'll bet you've never had THAT before)!

Yup, I came up short on the fruits and vegetables at lunch that day.

While our visit to the Bush’s Visitor Center provided us with a welcome break from the road, it also upped our respect for this family-owned company that works hard to provide quality products and enriches the economy of its quiet neighborhood in east Tennessee.

That's the old Bush family home across the road and to the right of the plant.
I think the Bush family has adopted a number of excellent marketing techniques here on the grounds of their complex that benefit the company quite nicely:  (1) They welcome visitors like they’re neighbors, friends or family members; (2) they provide a free, interesting, colorful and interactive Museum experience designed for fun and to engage visitors in the family story and history; (3) they gift every visitor so inclined with a photo taken “with Duke” at no charge, paying a staff member to take and print the pics; (4) they provide free samples in their café and opportunities to buy with no sales pressure at all; and (5) they offer clean restrooms and the availability of food and drinks as a convenience to visitors, enticing us to linger and enjoy – and we did both.  Now, we can say that we've "bean" there!

Our next stop is Nashville, Tennessee, where we catch up with friends Kathy and Albert, and enjoy a Grand Ole Opry performance headlined by a country music superstar.

If you’d like to learn more about the Bush’s family history or the Visitor Center, just skip on over to their web site (link HERE) and prepare to be amazed.


  1. A great reminder of our visit to Bush's a few years ago. I don't think they had the weighing station reading out in beans then. If they did, they may have politely removed it upon my arrival for fear of offending me or that the bean readout didn't have that many numerals. Also noticed another example your unending attention to good grammar--eating "healthfully" instead of "healthily," as most would have incorrectly stated. Always a joy to read a good caretaker of the language.

    1. I am definitely a rule follower, Mike, and we all know that there are a lot of them relating to English grammar. Although I will occasionally err by writing a phrase as I would actually speak it, I do generally take pleasure in being grammatically correct. Of course, knowing that I have my own personal Grammar Enforcement Officer watching over me does tend to keep me on my toes.

  2. I love those quirky stops made on road trips! I'm not a fan of baked beans but that looks like a lot of fun (and those onion rings look yummers!).

    1. Janis, I know exactly what you mean about stopping for quirky roadside attractions! They really can be the highlights of many a road trip, especially when traveling long distances. On our first National Parks trip with the kids, we made a spur of the moment decision to stop in Mitchell, South Dakota, to see the Corn Palace - and we STILL talk about it to this day. The Roadside America web site is the best for adding a little quirkiness to any day's travels.

    2. We loved the Corn Palace too! I'll have to check out the Roadside America site... it sounds like it would be the perfect road trip companion.

    3. I bet it will become one of your favorite travel resources!

  3. I don't know why, but I always thought Bush's Beans was located in the Boston area. At least in my mind, that is the part of the country most closely associated with baked beans. Glad to be corrected!

    This story reminds me of the time we stopped in the KFC museum in Corbin, Kentucky. This was the first restaurant that served the Colonel's fried chicken. The cafe is still open along with a museum and gift shop. Of course, Betty and I had to pose next to the life-sized statue of Colonel Sanders.

    1. There's a KFC museum? I had no idea! And that's exactly the type of stop that would tickle our fancy. I'll be adding it to the running list of trip notes I keep for future trips. Thanks, Bob!

      I wonder if your frame of reference comes from the phrase "Boston baked beans" - which are both a particular type of baked beans and candy-coated peanuts from our childhood. Although, now that I think about it, I don't believe I ever actually tried the candy. I wonder if they still make them.

  4. Mary,
    Loved this and I really hate it that we were away when you came through. The Bush family is revered in this area and have given Tennesseans lots of jobs and support for the communities in this region. Jay Bush, Duke's cohort, lived across the street from us for several years before moving to oversee one of the company's plants in the upper Mid-West. Great guy. He moved before he paired up with Duke, but he was living next to us when he began doing the commercials. Hope you come back through. Joe

    1. That's a really neat connection you have with the Bush family, Joe! I always thought the commercials were corny and sweet - so much better than most of what passes for commercials on television today. By the way, I have absolutely no doubt that one of these days we really WILL meet in person, and it will happen when the time is exactly right. If it makes you feel any better, I did wave as we passed by on our way to Nashville!


Comments are encouraged and appreciated, so please do join the conversation!