Whistle Stop at the American Cafe has been a landmark in Travelers Rest since it was opened in 1945. But the restaurant you walk into today has new life, thanks to Vickie Vernon Hawkins.
Hawkins didn’t necessarily plan to take over the family business. In 2013, her uncle’s funeral procession made one ‘last stop’ at the building on Main Street, which had been for sale since he retired in 2009. “I was overcome with emotion”, Hawkins said. “I felt like my uncle and my grandfather were teaming up on me from heaven, telling me to buy it and keep it in the family.”
She and Craig Sikkelee gave the restaurant a facelift before reopening in January of 2014. The Whistle Stop now has a rooftop dining area, called Victoria Station, complete with an outdoor fireplace and bar service. The dinner menu is full of Southern delicacies, like Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp n Grits. And the Little Red Caboose offers kid-friendly selections, which all come in train-shaped boxes.
Guests with a sweet tooth will want to check out Petticoat Junction, for homemade desserts like Mama Styles’ famous pecan pie. The Caboose Express serves delicious old-fashioned shakes, floats, ice cream, smoothies and Hawaiian Shave Ice from a walk-up window behind the restaurant.
The cafe features a vintage steam engine and a replica of the Swamp Rabbit Train, as well as an electric train that chugs around the ceiling. A train whistle blows every time Vickie’s cell phone rings. And if you need to make a reservation, just call 864-WHISTLE.
Hawkins credits her team of employees for carrying on the family legacy. “We want friendly, smiling faces who are proud to be a part of the rebirth of the oldest cafe in the Upstate.”
One of those team members is her nephew, Shay Waldrop. He works as a busser and a food runner, as well as Whistle Stop’s “resident artist”, designing coloring sheets for the children every month. “It’s the entire crew that keeps this train on track. Every person here plays an important part of our success.”
The growth she’s seen in her hometown is a source of pride for Hawkins. “When I was growing up, we always went ‘downtown’ to Greenville to shop and dine out. Now everyone is coming ‘uptown’ to Travelers Rest. It has become one of the new hot spots in the Upstate, thanks to the Swamp Rabbit Trail and the Whistle Stop. I’m very proud of it.”
109 S. Main Street, Travelers Rest, 864-WHISTLE, www.whistlestopattheamericancafe.com