East Ridge Wally's had a soft re-opening earlier this week as the venerable restaurant tries to re-invent itself from a buffet-centered operation to a "meat and three" diner.
Longtime owner Glen Meadows said he and his faithful staff "are ready to give it a try."
After a strange new highly contagious virus closed the doors in March, Mr. Meadows had a brief attempt at carry out. However, he closed down that operation after a couple of days.
Now that some restrictions have been lifted, he had a spirited meeting last Friday with his loyal crew. Of the staff of 32, all but a couple who are retiring were there and ready to go. "It was a pretty enthusiastic group," he said.
Mr. Meadows said, "The buffet was a big, big, big part of our operation. It was 95 percent." He said he does not look for it to be coming back any time soon.
So the next best thing to do is what the original Wally's on McCallie Avenue has long followed - a server-centered operation.
Mr. Meadows said, "We are going to be serving the same great food that Wally's is known for. Now it will just come from the kitchen."
He said guests will be given a paper menu or they can inspect the offerings on their phone. Those will include a choice of six meats and 14 vegetables a day. The lineup of delicious desserts will still be around except the soft serve ice cream will come in a dish.
Mr. Meadows said the initial hours will be 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. He said there may eventually be a return to breakfast as well. The diner will still offer Gene O's Special (named for his father) that includes gravy on a home-made biscuit. It will be served all day Wednesday. Chicken n dumplings is featured on Thursday and catfish on Friday. Ribs and chicken n dressing is Saturday.
Mr. Meadows started at the original Wally's on McCallie when he was just 12 years old. His father and Wally's owner Tony Kennedy were best friends. Mr. Kennedy in 1989 sent him to meet with B.T. Trussell who was then operating a Country Place Restaurant at the East Ridge site near I-75. It was decided to open a second Wally's there.
The younger brother of Mr. Meadows, Gary, later took over the operation of the first Wally's.
Wally's East Ridge on May 8 of last year was thriving as it celebrated its 30th anniversary. Mr. Meadows notes, "I was sitting at home when the anniversary rolled around this year."
He notes that success in the current environment won't be easy. He said, "It's a slim margin that you work with in the restaurant business. We have lost the buffet and the calls stopped for use of our party rooms. They were often used by civic clubs and other groups, including for special events."
But he has been figuring that, even with social distancing, it is possible to seat about 60 inside the restaurant for dining. Some will have tables up by the buffet where hungry guests once lined up.
Mr. Meadows said, "Of all the businesses that have suffered, restaurants have been one of the hardest hits."
But East Ridge Wally's is back up and running and looking to welcome back its longtime faithful customers/friends as well as a host of first-timers and visitors.