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


  1. Absolutely fantastic post. This is true Americana. Great job.

  2. It is hard to believe that restaurants were open 24 hours a day downtown in the 50s. Now we mostly have lunch places for business workers and fancy restaurants for dinner. I would love to see some 24 hr places!

  3. I love Presto! Just like all of my other favorite restaurants, I always get the same thing (pita wrap -- highly recommended!), but there are tons of other good choices here. The canopy on the upstairs part has been there only a year (if memory serves me), and is a much welcome addition in the summer when the sun just beats down.

    Inside, they have a blown up print of the "1950s shot" Pat included. I've always wondered if that restaurant had any relation...and now I know!

    Thanks as always, Pat!!!

  4. Thanks everyone for the comments!

    Matt--the new Presto is on my list to visit in the near future. Thanks for the first-hand review.

  5. Pat, thank you for a warm account of the history of the Presto Grill! I'm dissappointed that it took so long for me to see this post. What wonderful history & pictures! Keep us posted on the New Presto Grill.

  6. I remember it all, gives "goosies" to see the photos. Kind of "validation of Charlottes History". KB in Florida

  7. The New Presto did not last more than a couple of years and is now closed, home to a nightclub.