Brenda Hawley stands in the kitchen of the new location of the Choo Choo Café at 113 S. Main Ave. in downtown Erwin. Hawley’s move to the new location made space for North Ridge Community Church to move downtown. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Choo Choo Café has officially moved. In less than one week, owner Brenda Hawley relocated her restaurant from its location of many years to a new one. Fortunately, she didn’t have to go far. In fact, she moved right next door.

Hawley made the move to 113 S. Main Ave. and is currently up and running. What made the move easy for Hawley was she gave away most of the items in her original restaurant.

“I just opened the doors and gave it away. It was my Christmas present,” Hawley joked.

The move leaves a large storefront vacant, but it won’t be vacant for long. Moving into the old site of Choo Choo Café will be North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus.

“The plan is to be moved into the new building by Easter of 2019,” North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus Pastor and Worship Leader Gary Schwenke told The Erwin Record.

The new site of North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus will be at 111 S. Main Ave.

The Erwin Campus has been meeting at Unicoi County High School since North Ridge Community Church opened the campus in the fall of 2015. North Ridge Community Church also has three other campuses, with two in Johnson City, and one in Gray.

Schwenke said the downtown Erwin location fits the vision the church has for its community.

“We have a heart and passion for the city and felt that building would be a great location to serve,” Schwenke said.

The auditorium will be equipped with roughly 150 chairs.

“Our goal is to go to two services, sooner than later,” Schwenke said of expanding at the new location.

In addition to the auditorium, there will be a space for the children’s ministry, as well as an option for use of the kitchen space through the week. The auditorium could be used as a place for live music or live theatre throughout the week, according to Schwenke. Construction to convert the former restaurant space into the church is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Jan. 2.

Currently, North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus meets Sundays at Unicoi County High School at 10:45 a.m. Student groups meet on Sundays at 5:30 p.m.

The move downtown compliments the wishes of North Ridge Community Church, for their northeast Tennessee campuses.

“We are just excited to serve the community, and to be a part of the community, especially with all the changes to downtown,” Schwenke told The Erwin Record.

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Hawley’s new home for the Choo Choo Café is located at the historic site of the original Erwin National Bank that was built in 1928. This building was built after the Erwin National Bank was destroyed in a fire in 1909.

“This building has a rich history, they actually printed currency here,” Hawley told The Erwin Record.

According to a report by paper money expert Manning Garrett, the Erwin National Bank actually printed $86,390 dollars worth of national currency in 1929.

Keeping the building the same as it was in 1928 was important to Hawley.

“By preserving the past, we can ensure our future,” Hawley said.

Hawley, who has had the building for more than three years, had the inside of the building restored to its original state. The doors are the original doors that were a part of the bank as well as the ceilings that contain a series of classic chandelier lights. The bank vault is now complete with antique china and is the site for the Sunday buffet. The original counter and marble floors are still there. The windows are new but have been fitted to the original frames. The restaurant can seat 43 people inside and has room for diners outside.

“I’m here and I love it. It’s the new Choo Choo,” Hawley said.

For winter, the hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m on Wednesday through Sunday. There will be a Sunday buffet and there will still be evenings when the restaurant will take reservations. Once Hawley is settled, she will open on Wednesday, Thursday, and Fridays for dinner as well. The cafe will still be available to rent out for special occasions. Hawley hopes to serve wine with the dinner services in the future.

If you are interested in dining at the Choo Choo Café, their hours are always posted outside of the door of the restaurant or you can call to see what hours are available during the evenings.

If you are interested in attending a service at North Ridge Community Church Erwin Campus you can visit their website at www.northridgenetwork.com/erwin-campus. The church also has a Facebook page.