published Friday, December 31st, 2010

Reviving Roy's: Renovators blend modern, retro at Rossville landmark

by Andy Johns
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    Staff Photo by Jake Daniels Kathy Gainey sits at the new countertop, still being attached, at the renovated Roy's Diner in Rossville. Gainey took a tour of the restaurant. The Potter family, who bought the establishment and some of the surrounding property, is hoping to have the landmark restaurant open and operational in about a month.

Kathy Gainey has never been happier to see a napkin holder.

In the storeroom of the newly renovated Roy's Grill in downtown Rossville, the stainless-steel, spring-loaded containers brought back memories of her teenage years working at her dad's restaurant.

"I loaded at least 10,000 of these," said Gainey, daughter of the late Roy Lewis, who opened the well-known diner on U.S. Highway 27 just across the state line in Rossville.

Gainey visited the new Roy's last week as Wayne and Troy Potter put some of the final touches to the building they acquired this fall.

"I'm really happy they've done what they've done with it," said Gainey, who still makes a pot of beef stew by her father's recipe about once a month. "I used to drive past and see it in disrepair -- it was terrible."

Troy Potter said he and his father worked hard to preserve the feel of a 1950s diner while updating the building for the conveniences modern diners expect.

For the retro feel, they reworked the original neon sign; restored the black, red and white tile; brought in a jukebox and installed a vintage-style pay phone. On the modern side, they've installed two high-definition televisions, piped the jukebox music through speakers around the dining area and added dishwashers and other equipment.

  • photo
    Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Kathy Gainey, background, and Troy Potter look over pictures in the hallway of Roy's Grill on Wednesday morning. Gainey's father was the original owner of the restaurant, and many of the framed pictures were of her family. The Potter family, who bought the Rossville property, are hoping to have the landmark restaurant open and operational in about a month.

"We kept everything we possibly could," said Potter, who plans to open the restaurant in late January.

Looking around the grill, Gainey found milkshake cups and a waffle iron that she recognized from her time at Roy's. She also identified Roy, several family members and "Shakey," one of the diner's longtime cooks, in black-and-white photos on the wall.

Gainey said she was relieved to see the new owners had kept the "Go to church Sunday" sign above the front door because her father, a former member of St. Elmo Avenue Baptist Church, believed he never would make a profit if he opened Roy's on Sunday.

Potter said the restaurant's schedule would be decided once he and his father get a taste of the demand.

Cashing in on landmark

Since Lewis died in 1986, a handful of other restaurateurs has tried to revive Roy's, but none has put in the effort that the Potters have.

The Potters initially estimated they would spend $275,000 on the 35-seat restaurant, including the $30,000 purchase price. Potter said his father had wanted to restore the building and reopen Roy's because he remembered visiting the diner as a child.

  • photo
    Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Troy Potter stands near the front door of Roy's Diner on Wednesday morning, below a sign that reads "Go to church Sunday," which has been in that position since the restaurant opened. Kathy Gainey took a tour of the newly renovated restaurant, which was started by her father, from Potter on Wednesday. The Potter family, who bought the property, are hoping to have the landmark restaurant open and operational in about a month.

"If you're from Rossville, if you live in Chattanooga, you're where Roy's is at," said Troy Potter. "It's a landmark like Rock City."

To capitalize on the landmark status, Potter plans to sell Roy's shirts and hats once the logo is finalized. The crew is still finishing the menu and Potter said he has gotten samples of burgers, buns and other goods from various vendors.

Gainey said she "likes their chances" of reviving the landmark, but said in the end it will come down to the food.

Looking around, Gainey said she missed the red stools at the bar, but acknowledged the swivel chairs are more comfortable.

There's one thing she doesn't miss. Her father had a large sailfish mounted on the wall. She's not sad the fish didn't make it into the Potters' scheme.

"That thing was ugly," she said.

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at or call 423-757-6324.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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