TUGGLES GAP — Sit long enough on this end of Floyd County during the tourist season, and you’re likely to hear the gravel crunch under the tires of a Blue Ridge Parkway driver needing a meal or a place to rest.
It’s been that way at Tuggles Gap Restaurant and Motel since the heyday of American car culture. From the hamburgers and pie served in the restaurant to the 12 motel rooms without air conditioning or televisions, not too much has changed since the middle of the 20th century.
But it could, if the landmark business in sight of the parkway on Virginia 8 near the Patrick-Floyd county line changes hands. For the third time in more than two decades, it’s up for sale, and this time, Cheri Baker said, she’s serious about it. She’s put a for sale sign on the property — something she hasn’t done before.
It’s currently listed for $475,000.
“Primarily it’s just that after 26 years, we’re ready for something else,” she said. The “we” includes her mom, Nell Baker, who retired from the business in 2003 and now lives at Warm Hearth Village near Blacksburg.
“It’s been on the market for maybe a couple of months,” Cheri Baker said. “There’s a lot of interest — all kinds of interest. I haven’t had any firm offers.”
Cheri said she doesn’t know why it didn’t sell in the past. Maybe they were asking too much for the market to bear, or maybe they weren’t that interested in selling.
“But we’re definitely motivated — definitely motivated this time,” she said.
Built in 1938 a few years after the federal government approved construction of a nearly 500-mile scenic roadway connecting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tuggles Gap operated as a gas station selling soda pop and candy. Construction of the motel began soon after the gas station. It went through a couple of owners and developed a sit-down restaurant.
Then, in 1992, Nell Baker left her beloved New Mexico and bought the business at the suggestion of her daughter, Daryl, who was living in nearby Stuart. Nell brought her recipes for Southwestern pinto beans and rice and New Mexico’s signature green and red chile sauces, as well as a flair for what she calls “good, decent all-American” classics like tomato soup. Eventually Cheri came east from Washington state, where she had been working in restaurants, and she and her mom made a go of it.
At the time, Floyd County had very few restaurants and locals flocked there. In the late 1990s, it became a regular stop for motorcyclists riding the parkway. Sometimes a hundred bikes would stand in the gravel parking lot, according to The Roanoke Times archive.
Business boomed, Cheri said, until around 2000. Since then, federal government shutdowns have occasionally closed the parkway, and sometimes extensive spells of bad weather have kept visitors away. In 2008, the Great Recession hit. And, along the way, the county has grown.
More restaurants have opened to offer a variety of cuisines. Floyd even has its own craft brewery. And because the county has a less than 3% unemployment rate, it’s hard to find enough help to expand hours and serve more customers.
“It’s been a real roller coaster,” Cheri said. “It’s a great business, I really enjoy it. I’m glad to say that.”
But, it’s relentless.
“When you’re really busy, it’s hard,” Cheri said. “When you’re slow, it’s hard.”
That’s true, Nell said, “but it’s fun ... because it’s a people business. You know, if you’re a people person, the restaurant business is right up your alley.
“It’s a great little place,” Nell added. “It’s a wonderful location, and the parkway business is strong.”
The National Park Service, which owns and operates the parkway, reported 14 million visitors along its length in 2018, down slightly from more than 15 million in 2016.
Some Tuggles Gap regulars are a little uneasy about a possible sale.
Don George lives just across the parkway from the business. He comes for lunch on Wednesdays while his wife volunteers at a food bank in town.
When he’s hungry, George said he orders the Reuben sandwich. “If I’m not, I order the BLT.”
Turning his bottle of beer in a circle of condensation on the table, he ruminated on the possibilities.
“If she sells it, I don’t know what the upshot will be,” George said. “It is kind of an institution.”