Thomas C. Seaton
2001 Honorary Alumni
In 1979, a drive-through sandwich shop was born because of the efforts invested by a Johnson City native and a close friend. The owners, Tom Seaton and Jim Carter were attending ETSU. The business began in the back of a small convenience store on the corner of Walnut Street and University Parkway. The menu was limited to sandwiches, specifically barbecue, and the business at that time was known as Bucwood Barbeque. In the beginning most of their business came from ETSU students, but they did not realize what they started would blossom into a local favorite and expand to include a separate catering business.
By 1980, the business had outgrown the convenience store. A few blocks down the road an old abandoned fire station was for sale and the two partners decided to make the move. In January, they opened The Firehouse Restaurant, featuring quick service dining centered around barbecue items along with carryout. Seaton began searching for fire department photographs and artifacts with which to decorate the restaurant. Axes, hoses, hats, and the station's original plaque continue to make interesting conversation starters. The 1928 Seagrave fire engine out front adds to the atmosphere. In 1985, Carter left to pursue other endeavors, but the restaurant continued to thrive.
The business has grown from only two employees in 1979 to 90 employees at the last count. The local eatery became such a favorite that, in 1987, Seaton had to open a separate catering facility, located next door to the restaurant with 4,000 square feet of space. The catering facility can handle any size group for weddings, picnics, corporate functions, and parties. In 1999, the Tennessee Restaurant Association named Tom Seaton the "Restaurateur of the Year." Still, The Firehouse is not the only endeavor he has given his time and energy.
Seaton takes pride in his continued involvement with ETSU. From his support for the athletics program to his involvement in ETSU PRIDE Week, his relationship with the university has been an important factor in his continued business and personal success. In 1998, Seaton served as a co-chair for ETSU PRIDE Week in Johnson City and continues to co-sponsor the PRIDE Block Party with the State of Franklin Savings Bank. He is still serving ETSU by dedicating his time to the Pirate Club, as its vice president, and he is also a member of the ETSU Foundation.
Seaton's generosity was witnessed again when he recently chaired Project VIPER, a community based program led by the members of the Johnson City Professional Firefighters Association. The project's goal is to raise money to purchase thermal-imaging cameras that will help save lives and make fire fighting safer because these devices allow firefighters to locate victims quickly. This project will place the unique cameras in each fire station in the city.
Seaton also serves on the board of directors of the Tennessee Restaurant Association, The Salvation Army, and The Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Chamber of Commerce. He has also provided his support to the March of Dimes and the Johnson City Area United Way.
When Seaton is not working to help others, he spends time with his wife, Donna, and their two sons, Justin and Matthew.