MANATEE -- Metal dippers carve through frosty ice cream and drop scoops into cups a quarter-full with milk. Soon they'll become hand-dipped milkshakes by way of Shake Station employees.
Staying true to the "retro vintage" diner vibe of the building at 4219 U.S. 301 N. in Ellenton is important to new owner Andy Ameres. On Monday morning, he and his wife, Kalli, opened Shake Station, a 1950s-style burger and milkshake joint.
"This building is a staple of the community, and we wanted to keep its flair," Andy Ameres said. "We want to do Ms. Linda proud."
He's referring to the previous owner of Big L restaurant, Linda Burgess. She occupied the 1,200-square-foot restaurant space before Ameres and his wife took over. Big L was also an old-school diner, complete with plenty of Route 66 decor.
According to Big L's Facebook page, Burgess fell ill, had back surgery and "is looking at a long recovery. She had to make the hard decision to sell."
An outpouring of well wishes came from former employees and customers. The Amereses repainted and restructured the restaurant's dining room and counter seating area, but kept some interior decorations. Shake Station also offers outdoor seating with picnic-style tables and umbrellas, as well as a pick-up window for call-ahead orders. In the casual style of a diner, customers seat themselves.
One customer who stopped by Monday morning said she recognized a tin
"Wizard of Oz" sign from the previous restaurant and was happy to hear oldies music playing overhead. As soon as she heard the restaurant was opened, she stopped in for lunch.
"I've been waiting for it to open," said Kathy Kelliher, an 11-year transplant to Ellenton from Indiana.
Kelliher lives close to Shake Station and used to frequent Big L.
"I'm excited to have something new," Kelliher said. She ordered a club sandwich and a chocolate malt, which was so thick she could barely suck it through the straw.
Bill Walleshauser owns Healthy Water Systems LLC across the street from Shake Station. He used to visit Big L for breakfast and found the replacement restaurant tasty and a good value. He ordered a cheeseburger, tot basket and a milkshake, and said he ordered the tot basket because he assumed the cheeseburger didn't come with fries.
"I thought it was like Five Guys (restaurant), where you have to order a la carte," Walleshauser said. "The burger has a really good taste -- $4.75 for a burger and fries is a pretty good deal."
All in the restaurant family
Andy Ameres comes from a family of restaurateurs. His parents Emmanuel and Popi Ameres opened the Popi's Place Greek and American restaurant and now have eight locations in Manatee County. He and his wife, Kalli, also operate the Popi's Place On the Ranch
The couple have an 11-month-old son, named after his grandfather, Emmanuel "Manoli" Ameres. The infant is a partial owner of Shake Station.
"This is for him, too," Andy Ameres said.
They bought the building on Jan. 7, and Andy Ameres knew the direction they wanted to take with it.
"Ellenton is starving for an ice cream, burger and sandwich restaurant," Andy Ameres said, in between directing his wait and kitchen staff Monday morning. He emphasized to his staff how important it is to greet customers when they arrive and make sure each one is taken care of. "We're hoping to create a fun, high-energy atmosphere."
Good opening day
More than two dozen people were packed into Shake Station by noon on Monday.
Maria Miller, 17, worked at Popi's Place On the Ranch previously and said she's excited about the Shake Station's vibe.
"This restaurant is so cute," Miller said. "I've been here from the get-go, so I've kind of grown with it."
Kalli Ameres' father owns and operates a restaurant, Frostbite Ice Cream & More, in Frostproof, a small city in Polk County, with a similar theme. She said the most difficult part of starting a restaurant from the ground up is all of the small, unexpected obstacles -- late deliveries and computer glitches among them.
In addition to hot dogs and hamburgers, there are salads, wraps, sandwiches and some seafood. They also offer craft beer and Andy Ameres said they will rotate the selection each month.
"This area needs something like this; especially with all of us baby-boomers around," Kelliher said. "We like the nostalgic feeling."
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.