One of the things that make small towns so unique is independent, locally-owned dining establishments. In Hope, Ark., this has never been truer than at Tailgater’s Burger Company.

Located across from the new train depot in downtown Hope at 101 S. Main St., Tailgater’s is a mom-and-pop establishment owned by two married couples, John and Sharon Caldwell and Bobby and Melinda Brinkmeyer.

When the two couples purchased the building, it was a hot mess. Originally the Capital Hotel, then Jack’s News Stand during the 1960s, the structure had deteriorated so much that the architecture was crumbling, the floors were chipped and scarred, and the windows and walls had been plastered over numerous times.

But while many people may have seen a ruin that needed to be torn down, the partners had a dream. “I remember coming to this part of town as a kid,” John Caldwell said. “But a lot of businesses left this area and many of the buildings were let go. I wanted to build something that would bring business back to the area.”

And in the long run, that’s what happened. The partners all put in a year of intense labor as they restored the building to its former glory. “There were a lot of things that Melinda and I didn’t know how to do,” Sharon Caldwell said. “But Bobby taught us so much during the restoration, that now I’m not afraid to tackle any project.”

Together, the partners stripped away the old plaster and uncovered beautiful original windows that now let tons of light into the restaurant. They built an archway out front and covered it with thinly cut pieces of brick so that both sides of the façade matched. Solid wood doors were brought downstairs from the old hotel rooms and were refinished and installed. “Pretty much everything in here is fully restored, except for the bathrooms which we had to build from scratch,” John said. They also built all the tables and finished them in a high gloss varnish.

John, who also owns a local pawn shop, collected lots of memorabilia which is displayed. An old Schwinn bicycle and a gorgeous classic motorcycle hang from the ceiling while vintage signs cover the walls. They also cut off the tailgates off old pickup trucks and turned them into comfy upholstered seats which line one wall, thus the name for the restaurant.

An old Starbucks sign was turned into a surfboard emblazoned with the Tailgater’s name, and it even has a shark bite taken out of it.

So much TLC went into the restoration of this structure, it is now the darling of Hope’s downtown district. In fact, when we started asking folks in the community where they go to eat, nearly everyone said they loved the big burgers and atmosphere the Tailgater’s team has worked so hard to create.

In fact, the custom-built neon Tailgater’s sign which is perched atop the corner of the building, literally shines like an old-fashioned marquis, a pink beacon for the downtown business district.

“The restaurant has really become a gathering place for the community,” Sharon said. “Ball teams come after their games, business people come for lunch, and we’ve stayed busy since we opened in May 2011.”

But the Tailgater team’s dream doesn’t end with their restaurant. They would also love to see new businesses and even other restaurants open in the downtown area. “I know people can’t eat hamburgers every day,” John said. “We just hope our restaurant is the first of many new businesses to come in and revitalize this part of our community.”

If you’re heading to Hope, be sure to stop by and say hi to the Tailgater’s team and try one of their tasty burgers! They’re open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. If you can’t stop and eat, call ahead at (870) 777-4444 to place an order to go.

Also, be sure to check out our review of the restaurant in Good Eats!