Military hardware developer turns interest to restaurant
Tracy B. Cieniewicz, Hartselle Enquirer
What James Chapman of Hartselle originally saw as an opportunity to expand his military hardware company has blossomed into a new career venture.
The Cabin Grill, located at 2100 Highway 31 NW in Hartselle, opened in June 2005 in the former Steak And Biscuit 2 restaurant building. It is Chapman's first experience as a restaurant owner. He is also the owner of Lektron, Inc., a company that builds and supports military hardware, located next door to the restaurant.
"When the building became available for sale, my original intention was to acquire ownership of the property in case Lektron needed to expand in the future," Chapman explained. "I talked with my sister and some other people locally who were interested in a new restaurant concept. It all started with a drawing on a white board and grew from there."
Chapman's sister, Becky Tankersley of Hartselle, orchestrated the complete interior redesign of the building to transform the cafeteria-style restaurant into a rustic Gatlinburg-type dining resort.
Renovations included new awnings, landscaping, improved parking lot lighting, interior log walling, carpeting, interior lighting, a fireplace, and unique mountain lodge d/cor.
"It's a highly unusual concept for the area," Chapman said. "It's something unique you don't have to drive to Huntsville or Decatur to find."
Cabin Grill also offers a unique menu to compliment its unique atmosphere. Signature menu items include Cabin Chips (homemade, thin-sliced, crisp chips served with Cabin dipping sauce), Haystacks (hand-sliced onions shaved razor thin, battered and fried, served with Cabin dipping sauce), and Rib Tips (smoked Austin Blue ribs).
Cabin Grill offers a lunch menu Monday-Friday, 10:45 a.m.-2 p.m. with entrees starting at $4.49. To-go orders can also be called in at 773-3132 or faxed to 751-4435. Party platters and gift cards are also available.
Cabin Gill is a non-smoking restaurant. It features a meeting room that seats 60 for civic, social, family and event gatherings. The space is available at no charge as a service to the community.
Unique d/cor, including a black bear carving by a Native American, elk antlers from Chapman's trip to the Yukon, and a solid teakwood bench adorn each corner of the quiet, cozy dinning area.
While he is pleased with the restaurant's atmosphere, food and service, Chapman said owning and operating a restaurant has been a challenging experience.
"I did not go into this blindly," Chapman recalled. "With a restaurant you handle large management issues on a daily basis. I'm used to handling a project for one year, so restaurants have a very fast turnover compared to the work I do. I fully realize now that all the difficulties everyone said there would be are there plus more. This is not my calling, but I do enjoy it."
Thankfully, Chapman has an experienced staff of 30 full and part-time employees to make sure that the day-to-day operations of Cabin Grill run smoothly. Georgia Jordan, an eight-year chain restaurant veteran, is the restaurant's manager.
"Georgia is an extremely large part of the restaurant's operations," Chapman explained. "She has a good relationship with the employees and customers. She and the staff put the customer first, which is not as easy as it may sound."
In less than one year of business, Cabin Grill made its first expansion of services this month by adding a weekend breakfast menu, Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m.-until lunch, for a trial period. If customer response is good, the breakfast menu and hours will be extended throughout the week.
"We'll have Poppa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Kodiak Bear breakfasts for every appetite," Chapman said. "The menu will have eggs, biscuits, country ham, grits and all the good country breakfast items. Our customers said that our Gatlinburg-like atmosphere demanded a good country breakfast."
A web site, www.cabingrill.com, is available for new area customers and out-of-town visitors to explore the restaurant's complete menu and atmosphere, as well as leave feedback on their dining experience. Cabin Grill also offers free internet access for laptop users.
Chapman said he is glad Cabin Grill is part of Hartselle's growing and changing business landscape.
"This end of Hartselle is growing," Chapman explained. "Hartselle has been very receptive to Cabin Grill and the city has gone out of its way to accommodate us in any way they could. That's a big plus for drawing other business to the area."
Cabin Grill is open Sunday-Thursday, 10:45 a.m.9 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 10:45 a.m.-10 p.m.