Founder of Yellow Deli and Twelve Tribes Passes Away

Photo by Elizabeth O'Guin

By Cassandra Castillo, Assistant Features Editor—

After the passing of the Twelve Tribes founder and creator of the Yellow Deli, the future of the business seemed uncertain. 

Eugene “Gene” Spriggs passed away Jan. 11, leaving concerns about a lack of leadership and structure at the restaurant. Spriggs founded the international Christian movement Twelve Tribes in Chattanooga in 1972, and had since devoted himself to its community.

A follower calling himself “Asher,” originally hailing from Germany, met the Twelve Tribes 30 years ago in France. Asher spent most of his life around New York and Massachusetts as a part of what Twelve Tribes calls “The Community,” and moved to Chattanooga over a year ago. 

Asher asserted that Spriggs’ passing does not affect the businesses they run. 

“[Spriggs] was never anybody that wanted authority for himself,” he said “In The Community we have authority. It’s not like we have authority in the world where the ones at the top have to say everything. It’s more of a council of people. [His death] doesn’t really change anything as far as our structure goes. He poured his life in us for 50 years. If it’s not there we might as well fall out and go home, but that’s not the case.”  

With the purpose of self-sustainability, The Community runs various businesses including various hostels, farms, construction companies and more. All of them are Limited Liability Companies (LLC). They are under partnerships, which means that several people make decisions for the businesses. 

“Everything is in the community’s name,” Asher said. “We have the LLC in the [Chattanooga] community where our houses are bought in and all of our assets are in this LLC. In fact, we have no personal possessions. I only have my toothbrush and my socks. Apart from that, we share everything.”

The Yellow Deli first opened in 1973 by Spriggs and his wife Marsha Spriggs in an effort to draw in people of all walks of life. They want to allow these people to “touch a living demonstration of God’s love in those who served them,” according to their website. Their motto is, “We serve the fruit of the Spirit… Why not ask?” 

Asher said that a community springs up in a city when the people there want to dedicate their lives to something. Each community has its own unique personality, but they all communicate with each other to form a semi-organized network. 

Like many, Asher came to The Community while he was exploring religion, and he was not a Christian initially. He said that truth is self-evident and that it is what drew him to the Twelve Tribes.

In May of 1978, Spriggs departed Chattanooga to find new horizons after receiving backlash by local church officials and the city’s community. They began selling their properties, including the seven Yellow Deli sites they had in the south at the time, and moved to Vermont. They found the personal freedoms in New England that they had lost in Chattanooga, according to the Twelve Tribes website

They later returned to their hometown and opened the Yellow Deli on McCallie Avenue in April of 2008. They now have various locations across the United States, including ones in California, New York, Vermont, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. They have international establishments in Canada, Australia, Japan, Spain, Argentina and England. 

Their other locations tend to have similar features as the one near campus. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshman Dakorbian Bellefant visited the one in his hometown of Pulaski, Tennessee. 

“I haven’t visited the one here, but the one back home is a vibe you have to get used to,” Bellefant said. “Your first couple of times is weird, and they might try to recruit you. However, the more you go, the better it gets. It’s a really nice place to go at night.”

Many students agree it is a good place to study while enjoying good food, but others feel like the campus would be fine without a Yellow Deli. 

“If it closed, I don’t think Chattanooga would be worse for it,” Junior Em Wagner said. “I’d like to see a different business that’s unaffiliated with the Twelve Tribes take the space because it’s a really cute spot and gets a lot of business, especially being on UTC’s campus.”

UTC students can be found at the Yellow Deli at almost any given time. The restaurant offers

a different environment to most Chattanooga eateries, making it a popular site and a staple at the university.

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