Ten years ago, Jeff Worley decided to go back to where it all began. He purchased The Collegiate Grill in November of 2008 after it went through a handful of different owners and had been closed for about a year.
Now, with new developments coming to the square, The Collegiate has officially closed for a weeklong, $35,000 renovation project to stay competitive with newer restaurants. It will reopen Feb. 19.
The Collegiate Grill
What: Closed for renovations
Reopens: 11 a.m., Feb. 19
“There’s a fine line between nostalgia and neglect,” said Worley, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Donna. “And that’s my job to manage. So we’re taking extreme care to keep everything as original as possible, but we’ve still got to maintain stuff.”
The renovation will bring along quite a few upgrades.
Worley said he is bringing in brand new booths so customers will be more comfortable when enjoying a burger. He’s also installing a brand new subfloor and tiles. While the tile will be the same — a classic, black-and-white checkered design — it will be clean with no possibility of liquid reaching the subfloor.
The barstools and tables will be refurbished along with other cosmetic updates. The photos that used to hang on the wall above the booth seating have been put on foam board now for a better look, preservation and easier cleaning.
Worley said customers shouldn’t worry, though. Both the menu and atmosphere will stay the same, and the staff will remain just as friendly.
“Some people get upset if you change anything, but nothing really ever stays the same,” Worley said. “So we want to be relevant for the next 10 years, 20 years.”
Something else that won’t be changed is the number of seats. Worley said “that’s the tricky part with restaurants” because he can only serve what the cooktop can handle. Otherwise, customers would have to wait too long to be served. That’s something he doesn’t want them to experience.
Worley said he wants to “keep the memories alive.” He wants customers to bring their children and grandchildren and sit with them on a barstool, drink a milkshake and watch the burgers and fries cook.
That’s what it’s about to him and that’s why he wanted to renovate in the first place.
“It’s way bigger than money to me here,” Worley said. “I believe the Collegiate is a landmark here in Gainesville and I consider myself more of a steward than an owner of it.”
He feels that way because he’s been around The Collegiate since he was 12, where he used to sit on a barstool and drink milkshakes after school. When he started working there, making about $2.50 an hour, he had to have a crate to stand on by the soda machine so he could reach it.
“I’ve just got such awesome memories here,” Worley said. “There was a lady here back then named Barbara, and every Christmas she would bake all kind of candy to give to people. So every day after school, I’d walk in the door and smell that candy, so all those memories just start flooding back.”
That’s the kind of atmosphere he’s hoping to keep for years to come with the renovation. He’s also doing everything he can to make sure it’s done on time. A lot of the renovation was started off-site before the restaurant closed, but Worley understands one week is an ambitious goal.
There’s no electrical or plumbing work being done, so he’s hoping that will help him avoid any delays. For the next week, he will be at The Collegiate for the majority of the day — until 3 a.m. and back at 7 a.m. if that’s what it takes — to make sure the renovations are complete and ensure the restaurant is around for years to come.
“In the next couple of years, we’ve got half a dozen restaurants coming in,” Worley said. “I’m not the least bit scared about that. I’m very confident. We’re going to go eat there and we look forward to them coming, but we do want to be relevant. We don’t want to be shelved as old and outdated.”