Hillis’ Highway 30 Market
By Sparta Live | September 21, 2018 8:08 am
By Hansel Moore
If you have traveled from Spencer to McMinnville, on Highway 30, you have passed one of the unique places of Van Buren County, Hillis’ Highway 30 Market.
There is nothing exciting about the white-painted block exterior, and if the fuel empty light wasn’t blinking on the dashboard, you would probably drive past without a second thought. However, if you want to experience the culture of Van Buren County, stop in and chat with Gary Hillis and Brandon Hillis.
Begin your stop by getting some fuel. If you do need to fill up, the pump is a challenge of skill, as the user must manually stop the rotating dial at the precise amount paid for prior to pumping. No digital numbers or automatic stops on these pumps; this takes talent. It is a flash to the past and a bit of nostalgia that is still in use.
The real soul of the place is what happens inside. Depending on the time of day, as you enter “Gary’s Kitchen,” you are greeted with the sizzling sounds and aroma of someone’s tasty next meal. There are no table cloths or fancy frills like some restaurants, but this is a little grill that serves up a steady stream of locals and regulars who come here for the unique, filling food, both on and off the menu.
“We have a Highway 30 burger, which is a triple-patty burger with bacon, cheese, and a fried egg on top,” described grill master Gary Hillis. “We had one guy come in and eat two one day.”
The Highway 30 burger is one of the items not on the menu, but if you ask for it, the challenge is on to consume the beefy conquest.
This is a local spot that welcomes all visitors.
“We get repeat customers from all over the state,” said Gary Hillis.
The word is out there, and many bikers who enjoy cruising the roads of Van Buren, make Highway 30 Market their rest stop. One of the draws is the deep fried bologna sandwich. It is a unique twist to the classic tradition. A thick slice of bologna is warmed in the fryer until it has a crisp coating. Covered with condiments and cheese on toasted bread this is a succulent southern success.
The day starts early as Gary Hillis gets ready for the breakfast crowd.
“We get people heading to McMinnville who stop for coffee and breakfast,” he said.
Every morning, Gary Hillis and Brandon Hillis are kept company by a number of area farmers. They gather before the sun rises and solve the problems of the world. Well, maybe not “solve” but at least discuss them.
“They talk about everything – politics, faith, farming, and the history of around here,” said Gary Hillis.
Most of those in attendance have been residents of Van Buren County for over seven decades and some are closer to the centennial mark. The routine is a two-a-day ritual.
“There is a group that comes in the morning over breakfast, and then many return later in the day to have ice cream,” said Gary Hillis. “It’s kind of become their clubhouse.”
Gary Hillis reminisced about his longevity in the Bone Cave area.
“I grew up here,” he said. “I remember coming in here as a kid.”
He, along with son Brandon Hillis, decided to venture into serving the community through the business.
“I believe that we are here to help each other out,” is a thought shared by both father and son. “There are times when I think God has put us here for a reason.”
There have been a number of incidents throughout the past eight years when it seemed as if their location and presence was, indeed, divine intervention.
“Three times people with dementia have ended up here, and I have been able to call and get them back with their families,” said Gary Hillis.
If you are looking for a breakfast meal, quick sandwich, or a pizza to go, stop and visit with Gary Hillis and Brandon Hillis. This duo does enjoy getting to meet new neighbors.