FANCY GAP — The soft opening of the “Gearhead Diner” today is just a parade lap with Owner Victor Allen and General Manager Terri Bowman looking to create a special restaurant everyone will want to make their next pit stop.
The two said Inspiration for their first-time outing as restaurateurs came from unique places they fell in love with while participating in automotive events like the Hot Rod Power Tour. Allen said in particular, the easy-going style and charm of the “Gearhead Inn” in Whittier, North Carolina inspired them.
“The Gearhead Diner just fit,” said Allen. The duo’s passion for automobiles and, the small business moxey celebrated in Guy Fieri and Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” meshed well with the businesses location, which was formerly a Kangaroo Mart.
Allen explained the firm sold out and the removal of the business’s fuel tanks led to the property being vacant for two years with the group of friends debating ideas for the building. The green light came on when they hit on the idea of a relaxed family-oriented restaurant with its own special take on the food it offers.
“What we want is to have a place you can come to and be comfortable,” said Bowman. “You don’t have to dress up to come here.” She said a grand opening is also being planned sometime following the first week of full operation.
Bowan said the diner’s menu is built around an automotive theme and unique twists to proven favorites. Bowman said they planned to be open starting on July 6 seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Gearhead Diner will feature a full breakfast menu all day (including biscuits, pancakes, omelets, Virginia and Country Ham) and serve lunch and dinner. Take out orders are also available by calling 276-728-2773.
“We are proud of our unique appetizers and our menu. Fried pickles are a big thing around here. Ours are different. They are more like pickle-fries. We call them stick-shift pickles. Our blooming onions are onion petals called mud flaps.” The restaurant has a sauce called “antifreeze,” which is a green sauce with jalapenos.
Its burgers include the “El Camino,” the “Gremlin, “High Octane” and a “Burnout” burger for patrons seeking something spicy. Their wings, (called Fuel Injectors) offer three levels of heat, Cruisin’ (mild,) Nitrous (ignite the flame a bit) and Go Baby Go, which includes instructions for diners to “fasten your seat belt and hang on.”
Hot dogs with a variety of trimmings are referred to as “junkyard dogs” and include the Piston rod, Spark Plug and a BMW. Gearhead Diner also offers sandwiches with names like “Skylark,” “Nova,” BelAire,” and a “Roadrunner with is a Reuben featuring sliced corned beef topped with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and horseradish mustard sauce.
There’s even a children’s dessert called the “mud puddle” with chocolate pudding. (As well as signature desserts with names like “Porsche” and “Ferrari.) A selection of seafood and steaks (the chopped hamburger steak is called a “GTO”) will be offered and both Pepsi and Coke products will be offered. Salads and seafood are also on the menu with steaks, (including a 6-ounce “Camaro” and a 10-ounce ribeye dubbed the “Chevelle,”) and beef tips (topped with a choice of grilled peppers and onions or brown gravy) cooked to order.
“We’ll have a different special every day. If we come up on a good deal we’ll do a special on it,” Bowman said. The decor, framed in distressed woods including oak and cedar, complements the diner’s theme. License tags from states including Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida and countries including Spain and Panama adorn one wall. Allen said the plates and other items were sent by friends they had met on tour. (Bowman said the light shades made from license plates were inspired by an article on Pinterest.)
Allen pointed out the foot rest at the bar is made from exhaust pipes with bar stools from Model A vehicles. The bar top and table tops are made from blackboards reclaimed from the old Sylvatus Elementary school. Mirrors in the bathrooms are framed in Model A Ford tires, decorative glass windows salvaged from a 100 year-old barn (resembling some in the Sidna Allen House) and racing memorabilia from tour sponsors is displayed throughout the dining room. There’s even a tip of the hat to pit row with a sign reading “Grease Pit” over the kitchen entrance. The black and white floor tiles are “Race Deck” tiles, designed for industrial automotive applications, so even the floor is automotive themed.
Allen and Bowman stressed the venture is a joint effort bolstered by advice from numerous friends. They said they are also very proud of the staff they have assembled. The team includes Lakeview Restaurant veteran Aaron Crockett and Glenda Hall, a 30-year veteran in food service who helped Mount Airy (N.C.) restaurant “13 Bones” when it began.
Gearhead Diner will also offer tee shirts featuring the firm’s logo and its slogan, “Rev Up Your Taste Buds.” Although this is a new “track” for customers to run, there will be no need for a caution flag. It is located at 7145 Chances Creek Road.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]