FAIRMONT — Galen Tinnell still remembers the first time he dined at the 8th Street Confectionery in 1989.
He made family friends with the owners, and it became one of his favorite restaurants over the years.
“I didn’t come in here until I was probably legally able to drink,” Galen said. “It was a friend of mine, a fraternity brother... and he said ‘Let’s go to 8th Street Confectionery.’ We came down here and they have never gotten rid of me since.”
Although it had been closed for nearly a year, the restaurant reopened April 17 when it was greeted by a group of regulars who have been loyal to the business for years. After it closed last June, the previous owners — the Riggi family — sold the diner to the Tinnell family who now runs the restaurant as if it never closed.
“It’s a great business and a very loyal consumer base and fan base, if you will,” said Galen’s brother Jeff Tinnell. “This was a family business that established that kind of following, and that’s what we’re hoping to do is continue on.”
According to Jeff, just about every trademark of the 8th Street Confectionery will still be a part of the restaurant going forward. Previous owner Mike Riggi has been helping “coach” the brothers in running the restaurant to the best of their abilities.
“Our goal over the years was to build it to the point where we could take it, and we feel like we have done that,” Riggi said. “We’re hoping they take it to the next level, because I guess we’re a household name.”
Jeff Tinnell said another reason the family wanted to purchase the 8th Street Confectionery was the history of the restaurant, because it has been a Fairmont staple for nearly 70 years, albeit in slightly different forms. For decades before its temporary close, the restaurant gained a loyal following through its daily specials, with Fridays’ stuffed peppers being a particular draw for locals.
Jeff Tinnell said it was important for him and his brother to maintain the same menu and the same atmosphere as the old restaurant, because that is what made it so successful.
“The menu is not going to change,” Jeff said. “Here and there you may see things change, but in general, it’s the same menu. Having that consistency and trying to make the same environment that the place has always been.”
The challenge of opening the restaurant was not only having to adjust to restaurant life, but opening amid the coronavirus pandemic. Galen Tinnell said some aspects of the restaurant are different right now, but they are still running a smooth operation following certain guidelines.
“In a lot of ways it’s going to make it easier for us when things get back to ‘Normal,’” he said. “It has been challenging, but it has been good.”
Galen and Jeff Tinnell said last Friday was still one of the busiest days at the restaurant since it reopened, and old regulars have been returning on almost a daily basis to eat their usual meals. He said this kind of support is what has driven the restaurant, and it is what drives him to carry it on.
“We have been very fortunate because the community has been very supportive of us,” Jeff said. “There is a good loyal group of people in this area, and I think that is important.”
Although it is a change for him as well, Riggi said he is happy to see the Tinnells pick up the business, because it has been such a big part of his own life.
“I think most people are happy because they keep coming back,” Riggi said. “But it’s a bittersweet thing, I have been here since I was 5, so it’s a big part of my life.”
Galen Tinnell said he is happy to be able to operate a family-owned restaurant in the area, because they are being taken over by chains in other cities. However, he believes the support of the Fairmont community will allow for the 8th Street Confectionery to thrive once again.
“These places are going away. They are dying,” Galen said. “But it’s something that I’m passionate about in terms of the industry, but I think these places need to be maintained. If not, all you’re going to be eating is Chili’s or Fridays.”
As of now, 8th Street Confectionery is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and offers takeout on orders as well as some limited indoor and outdoor seating.