A Former Gas Station is Transformed into a Modern Diner with Southern Charm

Peek inside the vibrant diner that boasts a modern aesthetic with a touch of southern charm.

By GR Chair

Grand Rapids-based construction studio Metric Structure has helped reinvent a  1950s gas station into a vibrant diner that boasts a modern aesthetic with a touch of southern charm.

Soon after purchasing the building, owner Paul Lee teamed up with interior designer, Stephanie Waddell of Istoria Interiors, and Jacey Ehmann of Metric Structure to revitalize a local landmark diner. Dubbed Hancock, this modern restaurant serves some of the best Nashville Hot Chicken in the Midwest, and has a robust menu of southern sides.

Aside from the food, there is much to love about this space (including the ‘90s country music soundtrack), so we sat down with the construction and procurement manager on the project, Jacey Ehmann of Metric Structures to learn more about the complexities of renovating a historic property and how this fried chicken restaurant found success by tapping into the wellness design aesthetic.

GRCC: When we think of Nashville hot chicken, “wellness” isn’t a word that comes to mind. However, when we look at the interior of Hancock, there are a lot of design elements that remind us of the wellness trend that has been dominating the interiors world lately. What was the intention behind that?

Jacey Ehmann: Owner, Paul Lee, was passionate about sourcing high quality ingredients and making all of the food from scratch. The chickens are farm fresh, antibiotic and hormone-free and the sides are all made fresh daily, so he didn’t want a space that felt like a traditional greasy spoon. Instead, we opted for bright white walls, tons of natural sunlight, and a mix of natural materials. The result is a space that feels approachable and happy. So while the food may be a bit indulgent, the materials we used reflect the quality of the ingredients and the overall space feels really fresh.

GRCC: How would you describe the space aesthetically?

Jacey Ehmann: From the onset Lee had a clear vision for how he wanted the space to look and feel. He would talk about creating a restaurant that felt clean, comfortable, and approachable. That’s where some of these details like the live plant wall and the light wood banquette came from. From there, we worked with the designer to layer in the elements that are reminiscent of a classic country kitchen, but interpreted in a modern way.

The farmhouse sink, the Windsor-style chairs, and even the chicken graphic behind the bar all nod at tradition, while the vibrant tiles that flank the bar and the red barstools reference a more modern era.

Row of Reece Barstools with red bases.

GRCC: Aside from the adult slushies (everyone’s favorite thing), what is your favorite part of this space?

Jacey Ehmann: I love the bathrooms, we sourced a lot of the accessories from antique stores, and the bold graphic wallpaper is a really nice surprise for customers. I also love the big red umbrellas on the patio.

GRCC: Speaking of patio, you did a great job making the outdoor and indoor spaces seamlessly work together, both aesthetically and functionally. How did you connect the two?

Jacey Ehmann: One of the design objectives was to create an outdoor space that felt like a neighborhood party in your front yard, hence the yard games and picnic tables. However, the building is historic, and the patio was actually one of the more contested aspects of the renovation. We got a lot of push back from the historic community and in the end we had to change a few things from our original proposal, but we're still very happy with the end result.

One bonus of this building being a former service station, was that the building was already equipped with openings for the massive garage doors that open the indoor restaurant to the outdoors.  While we ended up replacing the original doors with more efficient ones, we tried to maintain the authenticity of the buildings past. We used color to tie the two spaces together, the red umbrellas reference the stools inside.

Restoring an older building can be a big undertaking but many would agree that it's worth it in the end Hancock is no exception. So whether you want to enjoy a delicious fried chicken sandwich, or you're just looking for a vibrant place to listen to Shania Twain and sit out on the lawn, Hancock could be your new favorite neighborhood bar.