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Campus Drive-In: Where neighbors meet to eat

Pam Cox • Jul 18, 2019 at 4:30 PM

Campus Drive-In Restaurant has been a mainstay in downtown Gate City since 1955.

Originally established by the Dougherty family, the Campus was a family-owned and operated business for about 62 years. Today, Campus is owned by Pat and Rachel Elliott.

Prior to owning Campus, Pat worked for the Scott County Sherriff’s Office and was a captain at the regional jail facility in Duffield.

One morning when eating breakfast at the Campus, Pat told owner, Debbie Dougherty, if she ever wanted to sell to let him know. About five years later, he got the phone call — Debbie was ready to retire.

“So, I left the regional jail and took the plunge when this became available,” Pat laughed.

For the majority of their married life, wife Rachel had been a stay-at-home mom. One, however, with an entrepreneurial spirit. It was actually Rachel who first took the plunge into starting and running a business when she opened the Haunted Warehouse in Weber City.

“I’ve wanted a Haunted Warehouse since I was 6 years old,” she said. In 2016, the Elliotts along with partner Brian Mullins rented an 87,000-square-foot warehouse in Weber City to create a Halloween nightmare.

Between buying the Campus and running the Haunted Warehouse, the couple has had a busy couple of years. Once they purchased the Campus, the Elliotts made it their own, adding personal touches here and there to the décor and the menu.

“We redid the menu some, but not a lot,” Rachel said. “We added a wide variety of vegetables and daily specials.”

Monday is meatloaf with three sides. Tuesday is chicken-fried steak with gravy. Wednesday is chicken tenders. Thursday is catfish or whitefish. Friday is spaghetti. Saturday is hamburger steak, and Sunday is manager’s choice. “That means it’s generally what I feel like making that day,” Rachel laughed.

All menu items at Campus are made to order. “Everything is fresh. We work with our suppliers to get the freshest possible ingredients every day to serve our customers,” Pat said.

The Elliotts have two children, Autumn and Nic. Autumn is in her second year at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) and plans on becoming a teacher. Nic just graduated from high school and has entered the lineman program at MECC.

Having both parents as small business owners sparked an interest in both Autumn and Nic. On Memorial Day weekend, Autumn and Nic opened Carter’s on the Creek, a store and shuttle service to the Devil’s Bathtub.

Even though her parents work seven days a week, Autumn caught the entrepreneurial bug. “I guess business ownership is just in our blood,” Autumn said. She and Nic came up with the idea for the shuttle service and talked it over with their Dad. Pat has been extremely enthusiastic and supportive of his children’s new endeavor.

The location of the shuttle service was originally an old grocery store that dates well back to the Civil War, according to Pat. The Elliotts are leasing the store and surrounding property with room to park about 100 cars.

Together, the family cleaned, painted and planned for months to get the business up and running. It has been a family affair. The shuttle service is currently open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to dusk. Parking is $10 per car. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes to the entrance of the current small Devil’s Bathtub parking lot. When needed, it will run every 20 minutes. For information on the shuttle service, call (276) 995-0200.

When Autumn isn’t working the shuttle service, like her mom and dad, she is at the Campus. Pat and Rachel both agree work has always been their life. “When we got married, I was called into work at the sheriff’s office and Rachel went to work in the tobacco patch. We met back up later that night around midnight,” Pat said.

The Elliotts love to work and they also love their newest endeavor - the Campus Drive-In. “It’s one of those places where everybody is your neighbor,” Pat said. Rachel added, “Pat, tells everyone who comes in through the door, come in neighbor and have a seat.”

“When you think about it, in an area like this with a population of 23,000, everybody is your neighbor,” Pat said.

Not only does Campus serve great food, but the small-town diner atmosphere remains. Next time, you are passing through Gate City, stop in at the Campus Drive-In.

Campus Drive-In is one of Scott County Tourism’s partners during the 50 Years of Love Campaign. And each Friday, between June 19 and Aug. 10, you get 50 cents off your total.

Campus is located at 432 Kane Street in Gate City and is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call (276) 386-3702.

Community contributor Pam Cox is the director of Scott County Tourism.