Also known as malt shops or dairy bars, old-fashioned diners are nostalgic haunts that have become a staple of pop culture in both the U.S and abroad. A fixture on Haywood Road since 1946, the Tastee Diner got new owners and a makeover this spring but stays true to its roots as a local hangout spot.
Jonathan Robinson, owner of The Admiral, and his partner, Natalia Rosero, bought the restaurant in May from David Hinson, who had owned it since 1989. Robinson and Rosero did a few updates, adding a jukebox and a refreshed menu featuring locally sourced ingredients. But the décor is pretty much the same as when it first opened 70 years ago.
The walls boast old black and white photos of the area along with light green Formica countertops and matching chrome bar stools. Customers can cozy up to the counter, grab a seat in the simple yet comfortable dining room or relax at an outdoor picnic table while they watch life go by on Haywood Road.
Seth Chapman, the diner’s chef and manager, says, “We’re all about giving a nod to the old school dairy bar, but with more quality ingredients and a modern twist.”
Chapman talked recently with Xpress about some of the changes that have been made and what’s in store for the future.
Tell me about the menu.
I make all dressings and sauces in-house. I also make my own kimchi. All of our hotdogs are nitrate-free. The beef is natural Angus and the chicken is hormone- and antibiotic-free. We also have soft-serve ice cream and run seasonal shake specials. Right now blackberries and peaches are hot. Customers can choose from a variety of toppings for their hot dogs and burgers. Among them are: pineapple-jalapeno relish, sriracha aioli, kimchi and a fried egg. We also try to work in as many local ingredients as we can. For example, customers can upgrade their mustard to Lusty Monk for 25 cents for a dog or 50 cents for a burger.
What are your most popular items?
The Carolina Burger or Carolina Dog. Both are served with house-made chili, slaw, onions and mustard. The Korean burger and dog are also popular. They have pickles, onions, kimchi and sriracha aioli.
What menu choice are you really proud of?
Our fried chicken. It’s brined and made with buttermilk. I try to keep it simple, and it’s really catching on. We run a special — Chicken Bucket Sunday — where it’s $2.50 off for eight pieces or $4 off for 12 pieces. We also have chicken wing Thursdays, onion ring Tuesdays and ice cream happy hour Monday through Friday where cones are only a $1.
What changes have been made since the business was purchased?
Our greatest change was to the schedule. We are now open seven days a week 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and no longer serve breakfast. We also added liquor, wine and beer and make our own lemonade and margarita mix. Craft beers and sodas are also available. Slowly but surely, we are working to add more menu items — mainly sides.
Is the past staff still intact?
Some of them are. We have a total of about 12 staff, and four are from the previously owned business. Anitra Hollifield is the diner’s most tenured employee — she has been here for 11 years.
Overall, how have the changes been received?
So far, well. We had a soft opening on June 1 and officially opened on June 2. We’ve seen quite a bit of repeat business. It’s a real mix of old customers and new. We get more local business than tourists, but of course welcome more tourist business. Mostly, it’s been word of mouth. That’s really the best advertising.