Highway 55 diner to open mid-November

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles. 
Published on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015.

BLACKSBURG, Va.  The Highway 55 sign is lit during closed hours, as construction and finishing touches inside are paused for the night. Photograph by Ben Weidlich/Collegiate Times
Highway 55, a North Carolina-based 50s diner chain specializing in burgers, shakes and fries, will open in Blacksburg on Monday, Nov. 16.

The restaurant, located near the Math Emporium, is undergoing its final touches.

"Virginia Tech had a lot to do with it,” Don Downard, president of Highway 55 said. “Virginia Tech, we know, is a good school. My brother went to school there and so does my niece, but we didn't expect to have such highly qualified people applying for these positions.”

Fifties music will set the atmosphere with vintage movie posters and Elvis records decorating the walls.

The chain has more than 50 restaurants concentrated in the southern United States and three international restaurants in Denmark and the United Arab Emirates. Blacksburg is one of the two in Virginia. The other is located in Virginia Beach.

“It's a really, really good community,” Downard said. “We felt like it was a place that not just people traveling through would want to eat; it's a place where the local population would want to eat and not feel like they have to eat the same thing every time they come in.”

The menu features burgers, wings, sandwiches and desserts, including their signature custard, which is made into concretes and floats. Other highlights include the pimento cheeseburger and the John Boy & Billy chicken sandwich.

"Highway 55 has what I believe is probably the best custard you'll have anywhere,” Downard said. “I always equated custard with soft serve ice cream, but I've learned from Highway 55 that real custard is actually better than ice cream because it has a higher cream content.”

If a customer can complete the Five-Five Challenge, by finishing a 55 oz. burger with at least four toppings, fries and a 24 oz. drink in less than 30 minutes, the meal is free.

"It's a big, sloppy mess that you don't want to eat in the car,” Downard said. "They have competitions in North Carolina where professionals come in to do this, and a woman actually owns the title, and she's not even a big woman. She did the whole thing in less than three minutes."

The diner will host a contest to win a free burger every week for a year upon opening (details unconfirmed). Loyalty cards, eligible for all purchases of at least $4.99, can amount to a custard or a full meal.

"One of my goals as the human resources person is to work around students' schedules because school is more important,” said Lynda Downard, the director of operations and wife of Don Downard. “I know some businesses can't do that, but we are certainly going to do our very best to work around students' schedules so that they have the opportunity to learn and work from that, but at the same time, they really are here for school."

Downard is optimistic but plans for future challenges, specifically holidays when a majority of students leave Blacksburg. The restaurant hopes to become involved with student organizations at Tech as well as the on-campus community.

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