Monday, October 20, 2008

Presto Grill/Nixon Bros. Steakhouse **HALL OF FAME EATERIES**

The famous Presto Grill sign

1950's shot of the Presto Grill

The back entrance of the Presto Grill

Tom Nixon stands in front of the Presto Grill in the 1950's

Tom Nixon at the cash register in the 1950's

Tom Nixon today

Late-90's pictures of the Presto Grill & Traveler's Hotel (above five photos)

Exterior of the Nixon Bros. Steakhouse

The Nixon Brothers-- Nick, Steve, and Gus

1966 ad

1973 ad

The new Presto Bar & Grill

Nixon Brothers' Presto Grill opened at 531 W. Trade St in 1947. It was owned by Nick, Steve, and Gus Nixon. At the time, West Trade was a bustling section of downtown-- the Southern Railway Station (eventually replaced by the Greyhound Bus Terminal) was next door, the Mecklenburg Hotel was across the street, and the building that housed the Presto Grill was also home to the popular Traveler's Hotel (opened in 1908). The Presto Grill was open 24 hours a day and featured classic homecooking entrees, vegetables, and sandwiches. Everything from NC country ham, fried chicken, and steaks to over 30 different sandwiches to egg malted milk shakes could be found on their extensive menu.

In the Winter of 1955, the brothers paid to have their cousin Tom Nixon travel to Charlotte from Greece. Tom began working for his cousins as a kitchen helper making $50-a-month. In 1959, the brothers, preparing to launch a new high-end eatery, would sell the Presto Grill to Tom and two business partners (Tom would eventually buy them out and, in 1971, would buy the entire building that housed the restaurant and the hotel)

In 1959, the Nixon brothers opened Nixon Bros. Steakhouse and Supper Club on Independence Blvd (near the Albemarle Rd intersection). It quickly became the popular place to go for special occasions on the east side of town. It was also one of the first (and only) dinner-dance clubs in Charlotte. The restaurant would continue its successful run until its close at the end of 1974.

Throughout the '70's and '80's, the area of West Trade would fall into a state of urban blight and widespread crime. Most of the Presto Grill's business neighbors moved away and the passenger train station (which supplied the Presto with many of its customers) closed in the early-'80's. Throughout out it all, Tom Nixon kept the Presto Grill open--he even started buying up large parcels of land up and down West Trade. In the early-'90's, Tom turned the daily restaurant operations over to his son Bill and son-in-law Pete Kartsonis. By the late-'90's, downtown began its revitalization. Johnson & Wales University announced plans to build a culinary school just down the street and several upscale restaurants had started to open. The state bought out Tom Nixon's property with the intent of building a new train-and-bus transportation center. The Presto Grill would eventually close on December 21, 2002 with the building being torn down shortly after.

On February 11, 2003, the Presto Bar & Grill opened a block away from the original Presto Grill. Built by Tom Nixon and owned by Bill Nixon and Pete Kartsonis, this two-story, 5000 square foot high-end restaurant and bar bears little resemblance to the original Presto Grill. If anything it mirrors the change and growth of downtown. Just like the entire area, which has under gone a massive transformation, the new Presto will take the Nixon family into the next life of downtown and West Trade.

Revisions - 10-16-11

1965 ad

1973 ad

Friday, October 17, 2008

Copal Grill **CLOSED**

Above two photos courtesy of David at Groceteria

1950 ad

1959 ad

1968 ad

1971 ad

1975 ad

1994 Hootie & The Blowfish music video

Another of Charlotte's famous institution restaurants has closed. After much speculation, the legendary Copal Grill on Wilkinson Blvd has closed its doors. There had been rumors for the last decade that the restaurant would be closed to make way for an airport entrance freeway, and now that rumor has come true. 

The Copal Grill was opened in 1947 by Mike Hunter and Gene Gulledge. They ran the Copal until 1965 when they sold it to Kleomenis Balatsias (who passed away this past July) and Spero Kalevas. It would remain in the Balatsias family until its close.

The Copal Grill was initially geared towards truck drivers and people going to and from the nearby airport. Before I-85, Wilkinson Blvd served as the expressway that connected Charlotte to all points west of the city. The Copal Grill was basically a roadside diner serving everything from the traditional "meat-and-threes" (daily specials that came with a meat, two veggie sides, and bread) to their famous hand-cut steaks and chops. Their fried squash and turkey and dressing were signature items on their menu.

The Copal Grill was featured in a 1994 Hootie & The Blowfish music video (see above) and was also used as the primary location for a feature Hollywood film that is about to be released. With its classic diner interior and retro neon sign out front, it made for a great film location.

The closing of the Copal Grill adds to the growing list of Charlotte restaurants that have closed over the past few years (Anderson's, Athen's, Little Italy, Rheinland Haus). These restaurants all helped shape and build Charlotte as the city was growing and taking shape. Along with the other closed eateries, the Copal Grill will be missed.

REVISIONS--- 3-25-09

June 1996-- Kleomenis Balatsias and Spiro Kalevas in the kitchen

3-25-09 The Copal Grill is reduced to rubble--

Video of today's demolition--