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Columbia landmark Circle R Restaurant has new owners

Photo of new owners accompanies this story. Last updated May 26, 2006

By Ed Waggener
The Circle R, Columbia's landmark nearly 60-year old family restaurant, has new owners.

Eva and David Rigney took over management of the restaurant at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday, March 22, 2006, in a meeting with the employees of the restaurant and the seller, Jeff Willis.

All of the restaurant's non-management employees were asked to remain, but Mr. and Mrs. Rigney will initially manage the restaurant themselves.

Ownership of the Circle R is an honor

"We're honored and privileged to own it," Eva Rigney said.

"People who have eaten here for decades feel an ownership in the Circle R," she added. She'll respect the sentiment, she said, adding, "You just can't mess with the tradition too much."

The changes which will be made at a deliberate pace she said, with many changes being retro: "We're going to do as much as we can to return to the original menu which made the Circle R the institution it is," Mrs. Rigney said.

The Rigneys do plan to remodel, possibly adding a meeting room, and they want to renovate and modernize the curb service, with a speaker system ordering service.

Trying to get history, maintain tradition

"We know that it was started in 1947, and that next year will be the 60th anniversary. If we can find out the exact day, we'll want to celebrate it."

The Circle R was built as the Hilltop Cafe by Jessee Keith in 1947, she remembers. In the 1950s, the Keiths sold the Hilltop Cafe to Ivan McKinney of Sparksville. Mr. McKinney moved into the house next door, and he and his family ran the Hilltop for about one year, then sold it to Rev. Pickett. A drive-in canopy was added in the 1950s, when Ruel and Runie Wooten bought the business, completely remodelled it, and changed the name to the Circle R Drive-In Restaurant.

J.D. Harper built business into the landmark is has remained

The Wootens sold the business to J.D. Harper, who made the business famous for country ham breakfasts and dinners, the world's best fried chicken breast, and well-seasoned vegetables people drove for miles to get.

Mr. Harper sold the business to the Charles Marshall family. The Marshalls were followed by Gary Mann. The latest ownership was that of Jeff Willis.

The formal owner of the Circle R is Fortune ST, Inc., Columbia, KY, which is now primarily in the food business. The corporation also operates Dairy Queen Restaurants in Columbia, Edmonton, and Princeton, KY.The restaurant is located at 712 Russell Road, KY 80, Columbia, KY 42728. The phone number is 270-384-3212.
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This story was posted on 2006-03-23 08:18:04
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Circle R Restaurant has new owners

2006-03-23 - Columbia, KY - Photo Ed Waggener; with CR sign modified, inset. DAVID AND EVA RIGNEY are now the owners of the nearly 60-year-old Circle R Restaurant, 712 Russell Road, Columbia, KY. The Rigneys and former owner Jeff Willis announced the change Wednesday night, March 22, 2006, at an 8:00 p.m. meeting with the restaurant staff. Mrs. Rigney said that there will be a few changes, but that mostly they would be returning to many of the traditional menu items which made the restaurant famous over a wide area. The Rigneys will operate the restaurant within their Fortune Street, Inc., parent company.
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