Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

These Walls: Ollie's Station Restaurant

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

These Walls: Ollie's Station Restaurant

Article excerpt

TULSA - History changed for John Gray when he placed a toy railroad track around the Christmas tree at his Ollie's Station Restaurant.

"Everybody thought that was the greatest thing in the world," Gray said. "So after Christmas we took the tree down, and people wanted us to keep the train, so we put it on the counter."

That 1987 decision gave Gray the theme he needed to make his west Tulsa diner a Route 66 landmark. He started buying and receiving all sorts of railroad memorabilia for his 4070 Southwest Blvd. eatery, building a collection in the thousands of pieces.

"It's just incredible," said longtime customer Delores Harper. "It was always so elaborate."

Gray soon had model trains of many different sizes running on shelves and elevated tracks above dining tables. Each wall at Ollie's boasted hundreds of different cars, signs, tools and clothing. Miniature displays featured different train configurations in realistic settings, with many working elements.

"We knew we had to become a destination restaurant," Gray said. "To do that, you had to figure out some way to brand yourself."

His sprawling railroad collection provided the heritage his restaurant lacked. For while Ollie's depot-styled building looks like a longtime Route 66 fixture, that structure and restaurant came long after the historic road's heyday. The diner was created in 1983 when founder Ollie Hibdon expanded a tiny, abandoned DX gas station to its current 6,029-square-foot footprint. Gray bought the operation two years later.

Word of his work soon spread among fans of the Mother Road, said David Breed, curator for the Southwest Tulsa Historical Society. Other observers also took notice. An article in Bon Appetit magazine named Ollie's one of the nation's 10 best restaurants for children.

"And the food is really good; 4.5 stars out of 5," said John Keatley, a frequent customer and former railroad modeling enthusiast.

Gray supplemented his railroad consumer base with another foundation built through community service. …

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