Originally created 08/30/06

Auto shop shifts gears to serve food

Ben Kinsey said his switch from quarter-panel repairs to well-done, country-style pork ribs has also brought about a change in spirit.

"(Work is) so much more enjoyable than it's ever been," said a grinning Mr. Kinsey, who recently transformed his Augusta auto repair shop into a racing-themed family restaurant. "Nobody's called me up yet and told me a hamburger's broke down on the side of the road."

With its colorful NASCAR banners and carefully displayed engine hoods as wall art, Kinsey's Auto Grille, formerly Kinsey's Total Car Care, provides customers with a "wheel dining experience," Mr. Kinsey said.

It took several months of preparation to make the transition from auto shop to eatery, but the saga began two years ago when Mr. Kinsey and his wife, Laurie, decided the escalating cost of acquiring new automotive repair equipment had become too great to keep up.

One day a letter advertising an upcoming restaurant equipment sale in Columbia arrived in Mr. Kinsey's mailbox, even though it was addressed to a former resident.

"I said the Lord had to have gotten this to me because the post office sure didn't," said Mr. Kinsey, whose wife is a postmaster with the U.S. Postal Service in Trenton, S.C..

Once Mr. Kinsey was in possession of the necessary equipment - the restaurant's two grills were fashioned from a couple of 80-gallon air compressor tanks - uncounted hours were spent cleaning the interior of the auto shop as he worked toward fulfilling the requirements stipulated by county health, building and fire officials.

"The first day I worked in a commercial kitchen was the day I opened the doors here," Mr. Kinsey said.

"It's been quite an adventure."

Like a Porsche 935 crossing the finish line to abundant cheers at the 24 Hours of Daytona, Mr. Kinsey's restaurant has generated an enthusiastic response from the public, including his friend Sammy Poole.

"To see the man's dreams come true - you can't beat that," Mr. Poole said.

Motor sports fans will notice the restaurant's unique dcor, such as a table made out of a Porsche wheel, numerous model race cars, and caps printed with "Goodyear" and "Masters 2001." There are also three tables with red, white and blue dinnerware reserved for uniformed military members or fire and police officers.

"I call them my hero stalls," said Mr. Kinsey, whose 10-year-old daughter, Milissa, assists with various tasks, including working as a waitress and tallying up orders on the register.

"She's going to be my PR rep," Mr. Kinsey said.

His voice full of emotion, Mr. Kinsey said the support of his family has made Kinsey's Auto Grille a reality.

"Without them I definitely couldn't have done it," Mr. Kinsey said.

Reach Nathan Dickinson at (706) 828-3904 or nathan.dickinson@augustachronicle.com.


Location: 518 13th St.

Hours: 7-10 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 7-10 a.m., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday; and 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Phone: (706) 724-2272.


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