By Joey McWilliams
DURANT – The construction has started and the renovation of a long-time local landmark has drawn attention of Durant residents.
The building that for so long housed George’s Drive In is giving way for something new. The property at 1301 N. First in Durant will now be the home of Durant Station.
But in doing so, the owners want to make sure those around the area know that a new venture is not doing away with the past.
Debbie Mills, owner of Durant Station, has lived in Durant for a long time and has dreamed of opening an eating establishment in this area.
“I live on the east side of Durant, actually out toward Armstrong,” Mills said. “My husband has a business on the east side of town. My son-in-law did and now my son does. So I spend a lot of time on this side of town.
“So many times when I was driving down North First, I was thinking, ‘I wish a property would come open close to Southeastern,’ because I would love to have a little coffee shop/café-type of place close to Southeastern and on this side of town.”
Mills said her daughter and son-in-law, Paige and Justin Scott, had contacted her a couple of years ago to consider going in together to purchase the George’s property.
“It was for sale. And so, I drove up and looked at the property and saw the back part of it and it’s amazing. It’s a very large backyard with big, beautiful trees. And Paige and Justin saw it like I saw immediately – a great sitting area, a great outdoor venue – the kind of thing we enjoy going to.
“We love eating outdoors. We enjoy the food trucks and the patio lights and really like that kind of atmosphere. So I told them that I would consider it.”
But different things in life delayed that happening until an opportunity opened up again last summer. Mills made the bid on the lot in August and closed on Dec. 31, 2016. With closing issues and state and city guidelines navigated, the contractor’s work was finally able to get underway. But Mills stressed that not all of the former building would be gone.
“This was the week he happened to start pretty well removing most of George’s, because it is condemned,” Mills said. “But we want the front to resemble the original George’s, so we’re going to leave the awning and the front looking the same because that is such a special place for so many people with so many wonderful memories.”
Paige Scott said the new name honors the history of the city.
“Durant Station was the original name for Durant proper because this community was located along Katy Railroad and there was a station here,” Scott said. “And later the ‘Station’ was dropped and it became Durant. So we thought that was neat and catchy in the way our town was established and was a stop along the way.
“And the Durant Station would be a stop along the people’s way. It was a nod to where we came from and the hope that we would be a significant stop along the way in Durant.”
The Durant Station will have a variety of options for eating.
“The people will be able to eat inside and then in the back we’re creating a patio area,” Mills said. “And there will be food trucks. We will have a stage built for music and hope to have a great Christian environment. And I really see this as a ministry to my community that I’m very excited about.
“There will be some bench seating inside and facing out, just benches up against the window like you might see in Starbucks. And then inside there will be a small sitting area with a garage door that opens up so that they can enjoy the outside environment when the weather permits.
“It won’t be burgers and fries, but we anticipate there will be a food truck there with food like that. We will have wraps, salads, coffee and tea. It’s very simple.”
Scott also noted that the lot next to George’s is on contract pending, so the Durant Station will have both properties.
“That will help with parking immediately, but it could be a Phase II, for lack of better words, to see how that property is going to tie in,” Scott said. “Some people may think there may be limited space, but that is something we’re already aware of.”
“And that is a ‘God-thing,’” Mills continued. “Because that property had fallen out of contract two months ago. In the meantime, the city had told me I would not be allowed to park in front of George’s and back onto North First. They never did like that and it would be hazardous.
“So my immediate concern for all of this was where people would park. I knew they could park at the old Gibson’s parking lot and come across, but that could still be dangerous in itself. And when the lady backed out of this contract, we made a bid and they took it immediately. So that is a blessing there in that we have a place for people to park.”
Mills also pointed out that the new ownership bought just the George’s property, not the George’s franchise.
“I got no recipes. I know nothing about making a No. 4 or fries the way that George’s made them. I bought the building and the property. And that’s at no fault to the seller. We didn’t ask for those things.
“We honor the legacy of George’s by keeping some of the things intact and we don’t want to distance ourselves from that. In fact, we’re going to have a book inside for people to share their stories and it will be George’s stories. We already seen so many stories on Facebook today where people talked about that being their first job. And people got engaged there.
“The sentimental attachment to that spot is very great. So we want people to know that the spot is still there. The tree is still there.”
The proximity to Southeastern’s campus is also something that was important to Mills.
“It has always been in my mind that this is within walking distance from Southeastern. And there’s really nothing right now, except for Subway, that the students can walk to and sit down at. This will give them a place to get coffee or tea or whatever. And I’m excited about getting to know them.
“I hope it will be a hub for the college students, not to mention, when there are football games on Saturdays and on Friday nights with Durant High School, they can tailgate. It could be a good place for all kinds of events at Southeastern.”
The tentative time for an opening for Durant Station could be in about seven months, but Mills pointed out that may be a conservative number.
“It could be sooner. We hope it’s sooner.”