There’s a lot to be said for serendipity. One would be hard pressed to find a better philosophical fit for Hillville’s iconic diner than its new owners Bobby, Cindy, Jessica, Kelly and Ben Bradbery.
Bobby Bradbery has 30 years restaurant experience and his wife, Cindy, has 22 years of restaurant experience. The couple said they come into this new enterprise after operating a Wendy’s franchise in Midland, Texas for 22 years. Wendy’s founder, the late Dave Thomas’s way of keeping things simple remains with the two.
“I’m originally from here. I came in last fall (September) and got to talking with a couple of friends across the street here. We were looking for a small restaurant to buy or something,” recalled Cindy. “They suggested I come over here and see Mac. We began to talk to Mac. We talked with him for a few months.”
A certainty the Diner was what they wanted to do, the future for them quickly settled in. The two came back in October. Bobby said they had a verbal agreement by then and Bobby came back in January and sealed the deal on March 24. They said they are loving the close ties between the eatery and the Town.
“I took a lot of pictures the other day. These are the people we start our day with every day. They are friends and family that meet in here. We just want to become friends with them. They gather up here six days a week,” Cindy said. “This was our version of the “Cheers” show where everybody knows your name. That is what I put on the photos. I said these are our friends we start our day with. What we wanted was the hometown diner where everybody knows everybody and everybody is friendly. We have a great time. He will come over and sit with several in the morning. I enjoy the people who sit at the counter – the interaction. They will make you feel like you’ve been here forever.”
Bobby said they “sort of looked at each other” early on and asked what they wanted out of this.
“We want to have fun, serve some good safe food. That’s our objective. Have fun is our main objective. You serve good food in a clean place and then you can enjoy yourself,” said Bobby. “We feature just home cooking. We took the diner menu that’s been around 60 years and put our little spin on it. We’ll come up with something one day and cook it the next. If you happen to come in that day you might get lucky and get some kind of different special. We updated a few items. We do fresh, hand-patted burgers that are not frozen. Everything is hand made. Our vegetables are prepared homestyle. We’ve added buckwheat pancakes and omelettes for breakfast.”
Cindy said they really enjoy the occasional departures from the staple menu items offered every day. The process is informal and suggestion driven. Typically it ends up on the message board for the day’s special. They said the diner featured barbecue at a recent cruise-in, which was well received. Bobby said the hand-patted cheeseburgers were the biggest hit.
“There’s a lot to cooking a hand-patted patty and making it not look something like a hockey puck. There definitely is. We’ve added a variety of juices to our breakfast menu. We’ve simplified the lunch menu and made it easier for people to decipher. We’re still working on the breakfast menu,” Bobby said. It’s hard to tell what we are going to come up with next. But we can guarantee that whatever it’s going to be will be from fresh meat and it’s going to be homemade, not from a tub or a can. We’re having fun. That’s what we’re doing.”
Bobby said he started with Wendy’s in 1986. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1981 and is hoping fellow Hokies will come and visit.
“We enjoyed our time in West Texas, had a lot of fun, raised three kids and foster a couple more. That’s when we came to a crossroads and said, ‘Well, where do we go,” said Bobby. “She wanted to come home and that’s why we’re here. I wanted to go fishing. The rest is history as Paul Harvey says.”
Cindy said she feels Hillsville is like a “Hallmark Channel” show and she wanted to come back to this town because it has that character. The diner is right out of one of those dramas. She said it has a “lot of character, a soul to it.”
“We kept the staples because you know if they are afraid to try something different they won’t have to worry about it. Stewed beef is going to be stewed beef but we’re going to have something different if they want that, too. Everybody likes the pancakes and the stew beef. We just want to see people happy when they leave,” said Bobby. “We make sure their food is good and the service is good. If it’s not we’ll fix it. We don’t want people to leave here wondering if they had a good time and a good meal. We make sure both happen. Our buckwheat pancakes added to the menu came from a customer comment. We’re able to do things like that. We’re consistent on quality, service and cleanliness but we are not consistent in what (specials) you may find to eat. That’s a part of the fun.”
Bobby said they are contemplating forays into the dessert line and he doesn’t know who will be surprised more, customers or him.
“Yeah, I like cooking. I really enjoy cooking. That’s the heart of the business in that kitchen. I get out here on the floor but I don’t stay on the floor. I’m always in the kitchen. That’s where it’s at. Everybody should come to the kitchen. You’d have more fun,” said Bobby. ” want to let folks know we are are going to offer them the best food we possibly can. We can guarantee it’s going to be good. If they don’t like it, I’ll fix it. I have no problem with that.”
Cindy said one of the best parts for her is seeing people she hasn’t seen for 25 years.
“I get to see friends I haven’t in a long while. It’s been like a reunion for me. I’ve really enjoyed it.” said Cindy.
The diner is open for business Monday through Friday from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. Closed on Sunday. It has a staff of five (not counting Cindy and Bobby). The two also plan on being open during some special events.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.