Greg and Lisa Cavender opened Hot Rod’s Diner in Social Circle a little more than seven years ago despite no experience in the restaurant business. Quality food, strong faith and a committed family have since made it one of the most popular east-of-Atlanta eating destinations.
by Michelle Floyd
A family with no history in the restaurant business has managed to operate one of the most popular restaurants in the Newton County area for the last seven years. Greg and Lisa Cavender opened Hot Rod’s Diner in Social Circle on Tax Day in 2013, taking it over from a previous owner. The restaurant location originally debuted in 2008 under Louis Van Dyke, the late owner of the historic Blue Willow Inn.
Greg was a homebuilder in Walton and Gwinnett counties when he and his wife of 27 years decided to take their heart for outreach and dive into uncertainty.
“Lisa and I have always served in some capacity at our churches, so this was an extension of that,” he said. “You have to have a love of people and [and a love for] serving people to be in the restaurant business. We get a lot of pleasure serving people.”
While he manages the back of the house in the kitchen, Lisa mostly runs the front of the house and wait staff. Their two sons, Levi and Eli, also work at the restaurant, and their daughters, Kristen and Bethany, enjoy dining there with their families. Greg points to their success as a collective effort.
“This was something we wanted to do together as a family,” he said. “That’s been the biggest struggle and biggest blessing because we see each other 24 hours a day. It’s taken some adjustments, but I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to spend every day with my wife and kids.”
Previously a stay-at-home mom who homeschooled their children, Lisa admits it can be difficult working long hours nearly every day of the week at Hot Rod’s, which sits just off Highway 11 behind the Blue Willow Inn. However, the positives of serving people from all over the state and beyond far outweigh any hardships.
“This was something we wanted to do together as a family. That’s been the biggest struggle and biggest blessing because we see each other 24 hours a day. It’s taken some adjustments, but I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to spend every day with my wife and kids.”Hot Rod’s Diner Owner Greg Cavender
“It’s like a mission field every day,” she said. “The Lord sits in front of me who I need to minister to. When people come in, I get to know a lot of the regulars—[and] not just what they like to eat. I get involved in their lives.”
The restaurant has earned several Tripadvisor awards and touts the Philly cheesesteak, bacon cheeseburger and Reuben sandwich as its best sellers. It also offers salads, chicken wings, hot dogs and desserts like milkshakes, banana splits and blow-your-hair-back peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Adjacent to the restaurant sits its special event space, which has a capacity of 50 people and has an hourly rental rate. The room comes complete with tables, chairs, a bar area and televisions.
Bethlehem’s Ron Gregory and Covington-area resident Bob Mathews have met almost weekly at Hot Rod’s for the last four years, even when the restaurant struggled through coronavirus restrictions. Their picture is among the many that adorn the walls at Hot Rod’s, along with classic posters, old records and references to a bygone era—a snapshot into the classic diners of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Besides having the wonderful nostalgia, they have a daily Blue Plate Special and fresh food,” Gregory said. “We have never found anything that we didn’t like. It’s a great meeting place, and they take good care of us.”