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If light rail comes, then family restaurant might go

There are two distinctive family-owned restaurants near CATS' proposed light-rail station at Tom Hunter Road.

Old Hickory House sits on one side of North Tryon Street, with smoke wafting from the chimney above the 51-year-old open pit.

Grandma's Country Kitchen is on the opposite side, dishing up a healthier version of soul food for 10 years in a white brick house.

One of the two restaurants might be there to welcome the expected influx of Lynx Blue Line riders if the route opens as planned around 2015.

The other place could be razed to make way for the station's park-and-ride lot.

“It's the area we're looking at right now,” said Andy Mock, Charlotte Area Transit System assistant project manager. He said adjacent properties also are of interest.

The existing Blue Line carries riders from Interstate 485 and South Boulevard to the center city. The Blue Line extension would add 11 miles, from the center city to I-485 and North Tryon Street.

Next spring, CATS expects to decide whether the project is viable. If so, it would seek federal funds to help pay for the project.

The route is conceptual, not a finished design. The Tom Hunter Road station would be in the North Tryon Street median just north of the intersection.

CATS still must complete environmental tests near Tom Hunter Road before deciding on a location for the park-and-ride lot. It also plans ridership studies to determine how large the lot should be.

Parking and bus bays on the west side of Tryon would be convenient for residents and buses from Hidden Valley, Mock said.

That location could mean kissing Grandma's goodbye, along with some adjacent properties. But environmental test results might change that.

“We like the west side of Tryon Street,” Mock said. “If we found something on these properties that would be expensive to mitigate, I think we'd have to open up our options to look at other locations.”

Mock expects planners to present a layout for the Blue Line extension possibly early in 2009.

Grandma's Country Kitchen owner Abdul Bilal is concerned that Tryon Street land costs are being pushed upward by plans for light rail. Costs could make it difficult for him to relocate in the same area.

Moving elsewhere might cause him to lose patrons, who visit from UNC Charlotte, IBM, Carolinas Medical Center - University and Hidden Valley.

Customers probably couldn't find the same menu elsewhere, he said. His soul food menu includes hormone-free meats and vegetables cooked without pork.

“There's other soul foods, but there's no one like Grandma's,” Bilal said.

Old Hickory House's owners say being forced to move would almost surely shut then down. The restaurant's open pit doesn't conform to current building codes, so the owners could not build a new one here, said Philip Edwards, Mecklenburg County's chief mechanical plumbing inspector.

The owners would need to find an existing restaurant with an open pit.

“How can you duplicate your food if you can't do that the way you've done it for 51 years?” said Diana Carter, whose husband is co-owner. “We can't give the customers the same products we've been giving them for 51 years.”