Bluffton Packet

Choo Choo BBQ finds a new home on Burnt Church Road

The Choo Choo BBQ Xpress found a new home in Bluffton Wednesday despite concerns a landscaped buffer between the site and a nearby house might be inadequate.

After the vote by the Bluffton Planning Commission, owner Pat Blankenship said he hopes the quirky restaurant -- a bright-red replica caboose that serves hand-pulled chicken and pork -- will open by Labor Day at 129 Burnt Church Road. The site was formerly a coffee shop.

The restaurant, which has been run by several proprietors since it opened in 2003, served its last meal on May River Road on May 29.

The caboose has sat in Blankenship's driveway in Levy since it was derailed by the sour economy and an illness that put him in the hospital in April.

Blankenship had previously said the commission might require him to paint the caboose a darker, rust-like shade to fit its new home. He was relieved to win approval without that condition.

"This was the biggest hurdle," he said after the vote.

Customers at the new site will be able to eat at tables inside a small building or on a patio outside.

The five members who attended the meeting of the seven-member commission voted to grant certificates of appropriateness for the move. Some, however, expressed concern there isn't much vegetation between the caboose's next stop and a neighboring house.

Don Lee, who owns both parcels, said he has discussed the matter with the house's tenants, who did not object.

Commission member Emmett McCracken said adding a caboose is different from simply adding to an existing building and could prove visually jarring.

"If you look out the window and look at a caboose, however unique and interesting and Bluffton-ish it might be, it's still something different," McCracken said shortly before the vote. "But the barbecue's good, so let's move on."

The commission could have imposed conditions on its approval but did not, Milt Rhodes, director of the town's Office of Planning and Environmental Sustainability, said after the meeting.