VALDOSTA — Staff members of the Wooden Nickel Pub peered outside just minutes before the restaurant was due to open its doors at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28. They found as many as 50 people were waiting outside to place the first orders for old favorites, as even more cars were pulling into the new parking lot.

Within two hours, the restaurant was packed and close to 100 people were waiting to be seated. Not long after, the staff was forced to cut off carry-out orders that just could not be filled. The entire staff worked to serve excited patrons. Even the owners, Michael Woodruff and Walt Gill, and their families were busing tables and washing mugs.

“It was a great way to show our staff support and the community how important the pub is to us,” Woodruff said. “We anticipated a lot of interest, but we didn’t expect a turnout like this.”

Even the extensive training and practice nights did not prepare them for the overwhelming response Valdosta would show.

In less than a week, the Wooden Nickel had already served over 5,000 people and as many as 30 people were still waiting outside daily for its doors to open.

Word spread quickly that the menu was the same, the exact tastes had been replicated, but that customers would definitely wait during the experience. During peak hours, customers may wait an hour to be seated and almost as long to receive food.

The wait and kitchen staffs are working hard to cope with overflow and learning to improve the quickness of service.

“We get better every day,” said Kae Sinkule, returning general manager. “Our primary goal was learning the exact process to replicate each menu item, but that degree of effort takes time and practice. Until then, take comfort in knowing the food is definitely worth the wait.”

Sinkule opened the original restaurant and served as general manager for more than 20 years. She has played an integral part in recreating and improving the “Pub” as well as ensuring day to day operations at the new facility run smoothly.

Other returning staff include Richard Tomlinson, Pub cook for more than 20 years; Ryan Tolbert, Pub cook for 15 years; Heidi Isreal, food preparation staffer for more than 10 years; and a number of old employees from the front and back of the house, bringing more than 60 years of combined Wooden Nickel experience.

They return to a brand-new, custom-built facility that appears to be a slightly modernized version of the previous concept. Constructed by Pinnacle Prime, the exterior is simple and rustic with the new buffalo logo proudly displayed facing Inner Perimeter Road. The interior seats 166 and features lots of wood and natural colors, simple decor and low lighting.

Patrons will find works from local artists as well as framed articles about the Wooden Nickel. The far wall near the game area will be a constantly changing photo montage with photos from an archive of the past 20 years. Of course, the juke box is full of great songs that reflect the diverse interests of the staff.

“It is still a relaxed, inclusive, family atmosphere where anyone can enjoy the experience,” Woodruff said. “We are very happy with the results Pinnacle Prime provided. It turned out better than any of our expectations.”

New improvements include a screened porch and a side room that is now used for overflow but will soon be available for meeting reservations. Other future additions will include curbside service called “Pubside To Go” and the return of take-out orders. The owners also plan to be very involved in the community, especially the schools.

The original opening was scheduled for mid-August, but Woodruff and Gill wanted to ensure that everything was perfect and the quality of the original Pub was preserved. They pushed back the date to late September as they, along with their wives Robyn Woodruff and Tracy Gill and friend Kiley Cashwell, worked endlessly to bring the retired landmark back to reality.

“We were the neighborhood restaurant for more than 20 years, and we really want to give that back to the community,” Woodruff and Sinkule agreed. “Everyone had stories about first dates and birthdays — we want to give them a new place to count on for those experiences.”

Sinkule said being in operations feels “amazing.” While she expected a positive response, she admits that the incredible number of guests, many willing to wait for long periods, is beyond anything she could have dreamed.

“It has been very exciting and overwhelming; we knew a lot of people would be interested but the kindness and interest show exceeded our expectations,” she said. “We are so thankful to all customers were willing to wait a hour during peak times. It feels great that they believe we are worth the wait.”

When the Wooden Nickel Pub closed in January 2005, people from all over were saddened. The restaurant had been filled with memories and experiences that patrons would take with them in their hearts forever.

Woodruff and Gill have revived a place of history, preserved heartwarming memories forever and given this neighborhood restaurant a new future.

Wooden Nickel Pub

Owners: Michael Woodruff and Walt Gill

Phone: (229) 242-5842

Location: 3269 Inner Perimeter Road

Hours: 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Sunday

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