Charles McCutcheon rushed around the Cheeseburger House as if it was packed with customers Wednesday morning, but the restaurant was still closed to the public.
Since a kitchen fire on Aug. 6 damaged the restaurant’s hood system and roof, the Cheeseburger House has been closed. Charles was firing up the grill in preparation for lunch that day when something caught fire. He was in another room when it happened, and came in to see flames leading into the smoke hood.
Charles said he inherited the exhaust system when he took over from his father in 1995, and building codes have changed since then. On Wednesday, he was bouncing among builders, workers and his general contractor, seeing how soon he can open the restaurant back up now that the ventilation system has been replaced.
As a family business, Charles said the Cheeseburger House usually only closes when they’re going on vacation. Working the restaurant leaves little time for upgrades and personal projects.
“I’ve used this time while we were closed to do some other work,” he said. “We stay so busy, it’s hard to do a lot when we’re open.”
The popcorn ceilings were re-sprayed, can lights replaced with LEDs and seats are being reupholstered.
“In the last month we have taken this entire restaurant apart, cleaned it, serviced it and put it back together,” he said.
His father opened the restaurant in 1963, and four generations of the McCutcheon family have worked there since. In that time, the family restaurant accrued a number of longtime customers and family friends who meet their burger cravings at the Cheeseburger House. McCutcheon said regular Jimmy Truelove used to watch Charles do his homework as a child, when he would come to the restaurant after school to spend time with his father.
“We opened that place in ‘63, my husband did, and there was nothing here but that ranch,” said Jolene McCutcheon, Charles’ mother. “It was so busy, my husband had little car-hops wearing white coats delivering food out to the cars.”
She said her brother owns the Ninety Six Cheeseburger House and her daughter — Charles’ sister — owns the Garden Grille. Her family also owns the 25 Drive In Auto Theater. Grilling burgers is the family business.
“I’ve been going there since ‘88. It’s just a great place to go eat, a place where everybody knows everybody,” said Willie Gillespie. “They’ve always got a smile on their face — friendly people.”
Gillespie was pulling in for lunch the day of the fire, and said he saw the commotion of firefighters atop the roof trying to get access to make sure the fire didn’t spread farther into the attic. He ate there two or three times a week, but said he’s been packing his own lunch ever since the restaurant closed.
Charles called the day of the fire “sensory overload” — he was overwhelmed worrying about the business and concerned the fire might spread farther and jeopardize the decades of family memories within the restaurant’s bright yellow walls.
Ernie Davis, another regular customer, said grabbing a fast food burger while the Cheeseburger House has been closed hasn’t quite scratched the itch. He hardly finishes those fast food burgers.
“I’ve been going down there since his dad opened it up in ‘63. I was six years old then,” he said. “I’d meet up with some friends down there, especially during football season. You get a Georgia Bulldogs fan and a Gamecocks fan together at the same bar, it’s going to get loud.”
Charles was working with crews to wrap up some of the last pieces of ventilation needed, and said he hoped to get an inspector in soon and open in the coming days. In the meantime, he said he’s glad he had the time to do some work around the restaurant and prepare it for returning customers.
“It’s a blessing in disguise,” he said. “A lot of this stuff we’ve needed to do for a while.”