Virginia’s Hillsville Diner still going strong

Back in October of 1986, Steve Repucci and I were road tripping, driving down U.S. Rte. 11 from Harrisburg, PA toward Knoxville, TN. Our ultimate destination was Nashville to visit John Baeder. When I had helped John Baeder move a huge portion of his belongings from New York City to Nashville back in 1983, we had driven I-81 south from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. I noticed that U.S. Rte. 11 was parallel to the highway. So I decided back then that if I ever made the same trip in the future, I would certainly take Rte. 11, as the old road was calling me!

When Steve and I were driving through Virginia we found that at a certain point, Rte. 11 ended up on I-81 for a number of miles. Being that we were trying to avoid being on the Interstate, we attempted to follow backroads hoping for an old alignment for Rte. 11. Well, we never found an old alignment and ended up getting pretty far afield from Rte. 11 and I-81. So at a certain point I told Steve we needed to get back on track. Steve is one of the best navigators with a map (besides me) and started finding a reasonable route back toward where we needed to be.

I recall we ended up taking a right hand turn heading north into downtown Hillsville, VA where shortly on the right we saw the Hillsville Diner. We were amazed as we had no idea it existed and being that we were basically there by happenstance, it was a delight to stumble upon! It was as I remember, a Saturday afternoon and the diner was not open for business but I did get some decent photos before we went on our way.

Hillsville Diner, October 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera 

The Hillsville Diner is a 1920’s vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner and was originally called the Mount Airy Diner (its first location was in that North Carolina city). In fact legend has it that a young Andy Griffith had patronized the diner when it was in Mount Airy (his hometown).

Hillsville Diner, October 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hillsville Diner, October 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

My story sort of comes full circle as I received an email from John Baeder a few days ago asking what I knew about this diner a new friend of his (Tony Craig of Virginia) was telling him about, (he sent me the link here…)   a webpage from that mentions the diner. There are a couple of mistakes, one that the diner was built by the Mahoney Streetcar Company (actually Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Builders) and second that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (it is actually a contributing part of the Historic District it is located in, not individually listed).

I told John that I first saw it on my way down to visit him in 1986. He also sent this photo that his friend Tony was able to obtain. I assume this was when it was operating at its first location (the building next door is different and the name on the diner in this shot says Mount Airy).

Mount Airy Diner photo, courtesy of Tony Craig & John Baeder

According to John, Tony Craig raves about the Hillsville Diner, says they have the best pancakes he’s ever had! Hopefully someday I can get back to this diner when it is open and check out those pancakes myself. Also, I have 2 friends who live in Floyd, VA which is really close by to Hillsville and we could meet there for a meal, who knows?

9 thoughts on “Virginia’s Hillsville Diner still going strong

  1. Great Pic.

    I agree about US 11. Fantastic Route, but I just can’t imagine getting THAT far off of 11 that you found yourself in Hillsville, but I think we’re all glad you did! Been to the diner twice(maybe 3 times) so far, and while the atmosphere is awesome, the grill in the diner part is a huge letdown. It is made of tin, and has dented so bad, and does such an inferior job on breakfast, that it nearly ruins the experience for a pure diner fan. They have an addition, and cook the rest of the food for the addition in the back.
    If I remember correctly, 11 does merge with 81 southwest of Roanoke, and Northeast of Wytheville.
    I was also a bit disappointed with 11 in the first part of Tennessee.

  2. What an adorable photo accompanying that post- and yours are good as well, Larry! When Retro Roadhusband and I were heading down to Charlott NC this past fall we were lucky enough to drive on 11 just a little bit. That was all I needed to convince me I needed to spend some more time on that road, and I can’t wait to cover at least the Harrisburg to the state line section of it sometime in the next few months.

  3. Mike, when you are exploring like we were, it was pretty easy to get off track. I know I wasn’t really concerned about getting lost because that is how you find interesting places like the Hillsville Diner. I do recall you mentioned previously about the “tin grill” at this place. I wonder if it is the original one all worn down with decades of use?

    Beth, Rte. 11 is a great road! I would travel it anytime. I have been on most of it from Cortland, NY down to Knoxville, TN (there may be some sections of the road in the New York stretch I’ve missed).

  4. I say I can’t imagine, but then I think of just how bad I have got lost in the past, even while trying to follow roads. The absolute worst is when you daydream for a minute or two and miss the road sign telling you the number route turned, and you went straight.

  5. I live near Hillsville. To answer the question about the grill, it is the original grill. The depressions in the grill were beaten down with a hammer by one of the earlier owners. The grill the pancakes are cooked on is original also. I eat breakfast there on an almost daily basis and went to school with the current owner.

    • My father was Andy Howlett. He is responsible for operating the Hillsville Diner for many years. One of Dad’s employees made that dint in the grill to form a spot to cook eggs. He and a Mr. Marshall set up the diner in its current location. Dad added the kitchen and later on the dining room and bathrooms.

  6. Any one have any Idea as to the manufacturing number of this diner? what the dimensions are of this diner? Does anyone have pictures of the inside of this Diner.

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