Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • Top stories of 2013: Local diner gets 15 minutes of fame

  • The Food Network brought, forks, knives, hammers, nails and its reality show star Robert Irvine showed to town to rehab the ailing Wagon Wheel Restaurant. The show aired but what happened next?
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    Earlier this year, the world-at-large finally got to see a little slice of Smyrna when the Wagon Wheel was featured on an episode of the Food Network's restaurant rehab show, "Restaurant Impossible."
    A Smyrna staple, many people would not have realized just how bad things were going had it not been for the persistence of owner Patty Gallegos' grand-daughter Jessica Furman, who wrote to the show asking for help.
    In March, a crew from the channel showed up and got to work quickly, remodeling the dining room and revamping the menu. The biggest source of contention? Host Robert Irvine was adamant that the eatery take muskrat off the menu.
    Bolstered by a bit of local fame, a fresh aesthetic and the advice of Irvine, the little diner has been doing well. Its success is not entirely a product of the show, though. A big part of it's present—and, it's future—is the girl who got her grandmother's restaurant recognized. After the taping, she tied up loose ends (like college graduation) in California and came back to be the Wagon Wheel's manager.
    Now, the little country restaurant that once seemed to only cater to coffee drinkers in her Gallegos' generation is flourishing with a social media presence and a nightlife.
    Furman already has events planned for 2014, including more open mic nights, comedy shows, an album signing and a blue grass band. In October, Furman talked about her never-ending list of ideas to keep the buzz going, from a lunch delivery service to parties and banquets.
    And, while she wants a new, young crowd to embrace the restaurant as a live entertainment venue, she's also aware of her long-time customers, who she has no plans to alienate.
    "I settled on an idea that would keep our regulars happy while also introducing a new crowd to us by changing things up 'after hours," she said, before adding "It's so beautiful now. And, it's the perfect size, I think, for showers and parties."
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