The grill was smoking, potatoes were frying and there were customers waiting for tables.
The Collegiate Grill was busy for its lunch rush on the square in downtown Gainesville on Saturday, March 3, like every other day of the week. But for the past few weeks, customers have seen something a little different.
The Collegiate Grill
Where: 220 Main St., Gainesville
Hours: 11 a.m-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday
The popular burger joint reopened Feb. 19 after closing for a weeklong renovation project. It has drawn both loyal and new customers eager to see the updates ever since.
“I think it’s cool,” said Loyd Campbell, a Clermont resident. “It’s good. It looks nice and clean, but we kind of liked the old one, too, the nostalgia.”
Campbell and his wife, Karen, visit The Collegiate a few times a month, but they made a special trip Saturday to check out the new updates. Though they didn’t have a problem with the look of the restaurant before, they said it looks brighter and cleaner now.
The new booths without tears, photos organized on the wall, fresh paint throughout and refurbished counter stools seemed to bring in more people as the lunch rush continued. But that may not just be because of the renovations; the menu remained the same, and to Karen Campbell, that’s what mattered most.
“If you’re from out of town, it would probably encourage you to come back,” she said. “But locals are going to come anyway.”
And that’s exactly what owner Jeff Worley, who was behind the grill during lunch, had in mind when he sacrificed a week’s worth of profits to close for renovations. He wanted to keep everything as close to original as he could, especially the atmosphere, so local diners wouldn’t forget what the restaurant has meant to them over the years.
“I think most of the people come here because they just like the food,” Loyd Campbell said. “The food’s good, and the people are nice.”
One of the subtle but new touches are on the photo boards along the wall. After all the old photos were put on foam board to help preserve them, Worley decided to add interesting facts about The Collegiate. Some tell the history of the restaurant and others facts about its day-to-day life. One of them reads: “Did you know ... we wash, cut and cook over 62,400 lbs. of potatoes each year — that is more than 30 tons of taters — no wonder we are tired!”
That’s one of Carrie Nau’s favorite parts. She’s been working at The Collegiate for just over four years and has seen an increase in customers over the past couple of weeks.
”We’ve gotten a lot of good reviews from our customers, so that’s the main thing right there,” Nau said. “It’s pretty much the same as it was before. It’s just a little spruced up.”
While she is impressed with the booths and floor, she is just as happy the iconic windmill silhouettes still stretch the length of the counter right in front of the stools. They’re one of the most nostalgic things about the restaurant.
But her favorite part is the customers. She said The Collegiate is full of nostalgia and she knows memories are always made there. She’s happy with the renovations because it means she’ll get to interact with customers for years to come.
“The reaction of everyone coming in,” Nau said in describing the mood. “And seeing how happy it’s made everybody is great.”