Grand Olde Station is the place to be for great food, catching up with friends and appreciating the history of Lake Toxaway
By: Brittany Conley
When the dam broke at Lake Toxaway in the early 1900s, the town, which started as a dream, almost came to an end. The lake dried up, visitors went elsewhere and many residents moved away. Luckily, others with a passion and clear vision for the area came back in the 1960s to give the lake a second chance, restoring it and the town to its former glory–but the pandemic has threatened the town in all new ways. Though the dam is still intact, and this time, the visitors flocked to the lake eager to escape the cities and sought the respite and safety of Lake Toxaway, like many towns across the country, the pandemic brought the side effect of business closures. But like many courageous residents before him, John Nichols III is not giving up on the town he loves, and his passion and clear vision for Lake Toxaway has only gotten stronger. He’s on a mission: to honor the area’s history while bringing everyone together for the future. And he’s doing so with the restoration of the Grand Olde Station restaurant.
The Nichols family has been stewards for the area for decades, when they purchased the property where the Grand Olde Station stands. While the building has been many things over the years–including the train depot which once served the Toxaway Inn, though the original structure is gone–it has always had a purpose to serve people. When the Nichols family purchased the building, they soon transformed it to be dual purpose and the iconic Brown Trout restaurant delighted visitors and residents for almost 20 years, followed by the Blind Mule, which was an unfortunate casualty of the pandemic. “We did not think we had much of a chance to find a new tenant, and The Lake Toxaway area really needs to have a restaurant in the area,” he says.
As the president of a commercial real estate business, Mr. Nichols has an abundance of tenacity and is a natural problem solver, so it did not take long for him to decide that if Lake Toxaway needed a restaurant, he was just the one to take up the mantle. “I wanted it to be more than just a restaurant, but a place for folks to gather and get to know one another,” he says. And it did not take long for his new dream to come to fruition. The Grand Olde Station opened in the spring of 2021, and the town fell in love with the restaurant, the way the Nichols family fell in love with the town many years before.
The atmosphere at Grand Olde Station pays homage to the history and splendor of Lake Toxaway, serving almost like a museum in many ways. At one point in the property’s history, it served the town as a train depot, so they have displayed a historic train caboose on site similar to what one would have seen there years ago. Also featured are a few wooden boats very much like what would have dotted the lake in the early 1900s, as vacationers lazed about the serene waters. “We also have been restoring the original 1940s American LaFrance firetruck, which will be moved to the site as soon as the restoration is complete,” says Nichols, whose deep admiration for Lake Toxaway and its people couldn’t be clearer. It isn’t always easy to marry a place’s history with a vision for the future, but the team at Grand Olde Station has successfully done just that by seamlessly combining so many antiques with modern ideas and pieces, such as a dedicated area for food trucks, a dog park and even a 24-foot outdoor movie screen and an area for some of the region’s most talented musicians to round out the ambiance.
While the restaurant business may not have been one Nichols ever saw himself getting into, he knows that for a restaurant to succeed, the food has to be more than just good; it has to be memorable. Hiring a talented and innovative chef like Nate Hughes was a smart move, to be sure what goes on a guest’s plate will be nothing short of extraordinary. “Chef Nate uses classical fine dining techniques and blends them with traditional southern dishes to create a menu that is familiar, fresh and unique,” he says. The menu at Grand Olde Station is nothing if not an extension of the deep fondness the staff holds for Lake Toxaway and the surrounding area. Using a seasonal, rotating menu allows the culinary team to use as many local ingredients as they can source. “The menu changes with the season to ensure the highest quality produce and meats and supports our local farmers. We feature fresh seafood, game and meats as well as fresh-made bread, soups and flatbreads,” says Nichols, who calls their from-scratch menu a labor of love. “Restaurants are all about the team in my opinion,” he adds. “Jasmine Aves, the manager, is a breath of fresh air. She makes everyone feel so at home and is excited to see everyone when they enter.” Family is important, too. John Heintish, the owner’s uncle, was brought aboard to tackle the day-to-day business as well as serve as a historian of the area, as he watched his own father work toward rebuilding the Lake Toxaway dream in 1960.
It takes a lot of courage to open a restaurant in the best of times, so it is nothing short of amazing to see–and taste–the work that has gone into creating this spectacular space for the Lake Toxaway community when times are still uncertain. Every decision, from the historical pieces to the tableware, to the delicious fare, has been made with one aim in mind: to bring people together and strengthen the community. Grand Olde Station reopens with a fresh take on Southern food in April 2022. To stay up to date about their menu offerings, be sure to follow them across their social media channels, and you can visit their website at www.grandoldestation.com.