Neese family brings Greenville favorite back

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Over a generation ago, there were only three places to eat in the Camellia City, the Dairy Queen, Moody’s Steakhouse and the Big R.

As Greenville moved to its bypass and fast food eateries began to breeze into town, the death knell sounded for first the &uot;R,&uot; then the Queen and finally, Moody’s.

The Big R closed its doors in 1980.

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Now, 24 years later, it is time for a revival.

Jimmy and Tammy Neese will open the Big R for business at some point in early May.

Jimmy said he hopes it is second week of May, but they still have some things to do first.

It may be hard for people who have moved here since the Big R closed, or who were born after 1980 to understand the excitement surrounding the reopening. For many area residents this was part of their youth, and Neese hopes that those teens of the past return, as well as new customers.

&uot;I’ve always thought that the Big R was a place for us to hang out when we were young,&uot; he said. &uot;Now, there is not a place for anyone to hang regardless of their age and I want to change that.&uot;

So why not build a new place?

Neese said it is because the Big R is part of the city’s history.

&uot;I wanted to see it come back as it used to be,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ve put it back like it used to look in the 1950s and 1960s. We want to put it back with the same style menu and atmosphere.&uot;

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the Big R was famous for its broasted chicken.

Others have tried to duplicate it in the past, but have never quite gotten it right.

Neese said when he bought the building, there was still the original broaster in the kitchen and they started searching from there.

&uot;We got the name off the old broaster and got on the Internet and found the very same company that serviced the Big R years ago,&uot; he said. &uot;We ordered an original broaster and it arrived on Saturday.&uot;

It is clear when you walk into the renovated Big R, that some time, effort and money went into it.

The floors are covered with new black and while tile, while all new stainless steel appliances sit inside the kitchen. In the dining area, older residents will feel a sense of their youth when they see it.

There are chrome and vinyl bar stools as well as booths with vinyl seating.

But those seats didn’t come that way.

&uot;We’ve had to have all that done locally,&uot; he said. &uot;We couldn’t find the booth seats in the red and white vinyl so we had Mr. George Green recover in the red and white colors. We also couldn’t buy the chairs in the color red we wanted. I didn’t know where to find it, so we to have it done the way we wanted it locally.&uot;

As the building came back to life, so has the interest people expressed to need.

&uot;Everybody I’ve talked to has had a positive response,&uot; he said.

&uot;They have been very supportive and I think a lot of people are happy to see us bringing it back.&uot;

And the response just isn’t locally. Neese said a few car clubs that plan on making the drive-in a regular stop have contacted him.

&uot;They called about doing a cruise-in on the weekend,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re really excited about this opportunity.

One of the clubs is from Andalusia.&uot;

The car clubs will be just one part of the traffic that will be passing the newly reopened Big R.

Traffic is expected to increase due to the automotive suppliers in the area. Neese said that is a good thing, but it didn’t drive his decision.

I’ve heard that traffic is supposed to increase through here, but I wanted to buy the place before these plants came through,&uot; he said. &uot;Tammy and I talked about it long ago and we want to make money obviously and for it to be a success.

But more importantly, we want to have a ball doing it.&uot;

The menu will bring back some old favorites including the broasted chicken and the potato wedges.

Neese said they’ll sell foot long hot dogs and chili dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, milkshakes, sundaes, banana splits and they plan on having a special every Friday night.

&uot;Our hamburger will be ground fresh each morning and we’ll have nothing frozen,&uot; he said.

&uot;Our chicken will not be frozen.

We will experience some growing pains, but our goal and priority will be to be the best place to eat in Greenville. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed with the food we serve. I think the little things will make the big difference.&uot;

For those wanting to eat outside, there will be tables under the awning to enjoy and children will really enjoy their meals.

Neese said they would serve them in boxes that are replicas of the 1957 Chevrolet.

They plan to open at 10 a.m. each day and stay open until about 7 or 8 p.m. on weeknights.

On the weekends, well that’s another story.

&uot;We don’t know how late we’ll be open, because it will depend on the response of the people,&uot; he said. &uot;I could easily see us staying open as late as midnight.&uot;

Circuit Clerk Allen Stephenson said he is excited about the Big R reopening and it will be great to visit a place of his youth.

&uot;When I was a teenager, the thing to do was to leave the Big R and drive to the Dairy Queen uptown and then go back to the Big R,&uot; he said.

&uot;You just made the circle.&uot;

Cindy Davis Riley who now lives in Montgomery was quite pleased with the news that the Big R was reopening.

She said she’d have to make it a stop when she visits her parents, Mark and Annie Davis.

&uot;I think that is just wonderful news for everyone who remembers what the Big R used to be,&uot; she said. &uot;Being able to go there and will be a nostalgic trip back to my childhood.&uot;

Mayor Dexter McLendon also expressed his pleasure in the Big R’s reopening and what it signals.

&uot;This brings back a lot of memories for me,&uot; he said.

&uot;I used to hang out at the Big R.

In my junior and senior years in high school, I ate lunch almost everyday at the Big R.&uot;

McLendon said this is a signal that all of Greenville is ready to grow and he is happy the Neese family chose to do it.

&uot;It is great to see it happen on that side of town and for them to take something old and make it new again,&uot; he said. &uot;Investing back into Greenville has been our goal all along.&uot;

Neese said the project for he and his wife, who will manage the business, it has been a labor of love.

&uot;It has been a lot of work, but we’ve enjoyed it,&uot; he said.

&uot;We’ve had more morale support than physical support from everyone from teenagers to senior citizens.

They’ve all stopped and talked about it and what a great place it will be. We sure hope so.&uot;