Eleven miles out of Gainesville, down Archer Road, lies a town of 1,100 residents and three restaurants.
But the third one, at the crossroads of city and town life, aims to do big things in a small town.
The Mustang Grill and Bar opened in Archer in June, after owner Shaun Willis won the building in an auction. He wants it to be a place to expand the city’s business and create a safe place for locals to meet.
After October, however, Willis also wants it to be a place for entertainment. He plans to begin Mustang After Dark – a series that will feature acts by country and rock singers from Nashville. Many are singers who are Florida natives who have made it in Music City and are coming back to their home state to perform.
“I want this to be the heart and soul of Archer,” Willis said.
The building, however, is already part of the soul of Archer because it houses a rich history.
“It’s an iconic place for a long time,” he said.
Before becoming Archer’s third restaurant – the other two are a Mexican eatery and a Subway – the grill had been a grocery store, a liquor store and a barbershop. Willis said it attracts people from all around the country and across the state.
“We have repeat business from Valdosta, Georgia,” he said.
It has also become a community center of sorts.
Resident Rickey Osborn said he remembers when the grill was a cafe 20 years ago. Sitting at the exact table he did when he was a kid, he said he remembers the pinball machine that used to be across the table and how he and his brothers used to play there. He said they were around the same age as his two sons, who were waiting to be served next to him.
“This exact table has always been here,” Osborn said.
But while Archer might be a small town, Willis said it’s not unusual to see people connecting at the restaurant.
“On Fridays and Saturday nights, one of the best things that I can hear in here is when people are sitting in here with friends, somebody walks in the door and all of a sudden you hear, ‘Hey! I haven’t seen you in 15 years,'” he said. “That happens here every weekend.”
Since its inception, the restaurant has served 10,000 customers and hosted special events such as a bike night, jeep night and car night, he said. It has also hosted screenings of the Gator games.
Willis’ efforts to expand also led him to begin planning Mustang After Dark. He said he has known the singers for years and even encouraged some of them to pursue their dreams in Nashville.
Now, he said they want to give back.
The After Dark program will also include local artists, trivia and karaoke jocks from around Florida. He said bringing in local bands may help bridge the gap between Archer and surrounding cities.
Willis said he plans to expand the business by opening chains in other cities and offering catering at the restaurant’s one year anniversary.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a previous version that stated the After Dark program includes disc jocks.