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Ben Zandi at the Dining Room

Burger Bar sold to Troutdale Kitchens

January 12, 2010

Ben Zandi of Troutdale Kitchens announced on Facebook that he was the proud new owner of the Burger Bar in downtown Bristol, Virginia. He said he was dedicated to improving the establishment while also holding to traditions in an article featured onTriCities.comwritten by Mac McLean.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – A local restaurateur plans to give the Burger Bar a face lift and a few other twists when he reopens the iconic downtown Bristol restaurant this spring.
Troutdale Kitchens owner Ben Zandi said Monday he’s purchased the Piedmont Avenue diner, which recently closed and is best known for its possible ties to a country music legend’s final road trip.

The 60-year-old restaurant served its last meal on Dec. 30, after its previous owner, Sean Hyler, decided to close because business was slow.

“It will be the Burger Bar, but it may have a new twist,” Zandi said Monday about his purchase.
He plans to reopen the restaurant in March after making a few renovations, including expanding its seating capacity and fixing its neon sign.

With sandwiches like the mini cheeseburger called Pee-Wee Deluxe, barbecue cheeseburger known as Move it On Over and chili cheeseburger dubbed Howlin’ at the Moon, the Burger Bar has been a “Bristol icon since 1948,” according to a dry erase board that hung above its grill.
But the restaurant is best known for a fateful night more than 50 years ago, when some believe that country music legend Hank Williams and his driver, Charles Carr, visited the diner.
Legend has it that Williams and Carr stopped by the Burger Bar while traveling from Montgomery, Ala., to Canton, Ohio, on Dec. 31, 1952. Carr asked Williams if he wanted anything to eat, but his passenger said no.

The two continued on to Oak Hill, W.Va., where Carr noticed that something was wrong with his passenger and stopped off at a nearby hospital, where Williams was pronounced dead on Jan. 1, 1953.

“Supposedly, that’s the last time he spoke,” Hyler said in a December interview. Hyler, who could not be reached for comment Monday, said earlier that there are several tales about where Williams stopped during his last days.

“Depending on who you ask, it could be any place,” he said.

Truth or fiction, the Burger Bar’s claim to fame was a major benefit to downtown Bristol, Believe in Bristol Executive Director Christina Blevins said Monday. “The Burger Bar is kind of notorious,” Blevins said, referring to the restaurant’s possible connection to Williams. “A lot of people come to Bristol just because of that history.”

But the restaurant’s legend did not bring in enough business for Hyler to keep it open.
In December, Hyler described closing the Burger Bar as “more of a necessity than a choice” that was brought on by the down economy and the fact that people are not eating out as much as they used to.

Hyler started telling his loyal customers about his decision to close in mid-December. The news spread on Facebook and finally reached Zandi.

“My wife’s on there every day,” Zandi said of the social networking site.From across the hall, his wife shouted back: “Well, isn’t everybody?”

Zandi met with Hyler on Dec. 28 to talk about the restaurant’s future and offered to buy it a few days later. He announced the purchase on Facebook Monday afternoon.

“We saw [keeping it open] as something necessary that needed to happen for downtown,” said Zandi, who admitted to eating a mushroom cheeseburger from the Burger Bar once a week.

Zandi’s company, Troutdale Kitchens, owns several fine dining restaurants downtown, including the Troutdale Bistro and the Troutdale Dining Room.

He said he plans to keep the Burger Bar’s menu about the same except for a few additions, including burgers made with locally raised grass-fed beef and produce from the city’s farmers market.

Zandi also wants to serve veggie and turkey burgers for those who are on a diet and root beer floats and orange frosties for those who aren’t.

But more importantly, he wants to make the Burger Bar a place that can continue to stand the test of time.

“We want to keep the place open for the next 40 to 50 years,” Zandi said, joking that he “wouldn’t mind working there when I retire.”