Find a mix of past and present at Brightstar Drive-In Grill

Walking in the door is like exhaling.

The green and white checkered floor, the roomy booths and the paper plates holding huge amounts of comfort food make it feel like a simpler time. And simple is their motto at the Brightstar Drive-In Grill.

The Brightstar Drive-In Grill in Mount Holly aims to provide a comfortable feel with the look of a 1960s diner. (Erik Reitter/MIM photo)

The menu items, like the often ordered Lotta Burger, are simple but made with high-quality ingredients.

However, Brightstar is not quite as 1960s as it appears. In the corner of the restaurant is a closed off radio booth. Owner Howard Black explains that this is the first restaurant in the United States to have it’s own Internet radio station at Brightstar Radio Fun 101. Of course, the music is oldies and beach format, but the technology is hard rock.

Black bought the diner 16 years ago, but it has been in the same location since 1961. He lives in Cherryville and travels every day to get to the restaurant. His parents owned restaurants, and growing up he worked alongside them.

“At 5 I was making milkshakes for customers. I think today they would call that child labor,” he said, jokingly.

Black bought the diner because he wanted to be in the restaurant business and didn’t want to see it torn down. He remodeled about two years ago, but the restaurant maintains the feel of a diner. The decor was meticulously planned with relaxation and comfort in mind.

Kurt Black comes out of the kitchen and sits next to his father. The two have been working together off and on since he was 12. He realized several years ago that he wanted to be his own boss and is proud to be the third generation in the restaurant business.

“My dad still controls me, you know like a puppeteer.” he said. “But I’m the one putting in the long hours.”

His dad gives him a look and says “Yep. He is running the restaurant, and I am running the radio station.”

The radio station began about two years ago as a way to get music into the restaurant. Since then, it has boomed. Just the other day the demographics boasted nine countries and 15 states tuning in to the station.

“Most of the time it is on automation,” Howard Black said. “But either Dana Valcourt or I DJ it from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day and on Friday nights and Saturday mornings.”

The station doesn’t do any outside advertising, it relies on word of mouth for listeners.

Forrest Temple of Belmont and Mike Humphries of Mount Holly sit in a booth with three paper plates filled with food. They hand over a corn popper which is a deep fried ball filled with creamed corn. It is unique to the Brightstar menu, sweet and salty with a cream-filled middle. But the two men, co-workers at Forrest Plumbing, have come here for the Lotta Burger.

“He wanted to go get a burger,” Humphries saod. “I said, ‘well if we’re going to get a burger, we might as well get the best one!”

The Lotta Burger has been made the same way for 16 years: high-quality hamburger, homemade coleslaw, slice of cheese, tomatoes, pickles and catsup. The mixture is amazingly good.

Prior to taking one last photo of the father and son, another man enters the room. Turns out Howard’s other son, Chris, also works at the restaurant. The three joke with and jostle each other as the photo is being taken, like a Southern Three Stooges. You can simply feel how close they are.

They are proud of their customers, Internet radio station and restaurant. But they really love the food.

“I feel that you shouldn’t serve anything you wouldn’t eat yourself,” said Kurt Black. “And I love everything on this menu.”

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