AP NEWS

Guns, grub paired at Huntington’s restaurant, indoor range

May 12, 2019

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — From the dining room of Bombshells Burgers & BBQ in Huntington, you really can’t hear what’s going on in the back of the building. The vintage pin-up poster-covered-walls are too thick.

They drown out the continuous pop, pop, pop of pistol and rifle fire in the Bare Arms Indoor Range.

You only hear that, really, when you get close to the doors leading from the gun-store half of the building into a check-out room — and the sound is muffled.

All you get is the sound of Bill Haley and the Comets singing about rockin’ around the clock while customers talk over gooey, cheesy platters of loaded nachos or plates of savory, smoked pork ribs.

The music isn’t quite right, owner Christy Bare acknowledged.

The restaurant’s theme is World War II. Along with the illustration of vivacious women whose images were painted on the sides of American bombers, they have vintage uniforms and old recruitment flyers on display and a piece of the wall dedicated to Woody Williams, West Virginia’s best-known Medal of Honor recipient.

“We have a burger named after him,” Bare said. “It’s called ‘the flamethrower.’”

Williams used a flamethrower in World War II and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

“He comes in sometimes,” the Kentucky native said. “Sometimes, he gets the flamethrower.”

It’s a spicy burger topped with pepper jack cheese and jalapenos.

“Sometimes, he gets the grilled cheese,” she added.

The music is from a decade later, which probably suits contemporary audiences who might have heard of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis or Little Richard but may have no idea who Benny Goodman was.

Bare liked the style of the 1940s, except for the music.

“The 1950s are just more fun,” she said.

Bombshells Burgers & BBQ and Bare Arms opened in June 2018 and was born as a surprising cross-pollination of two things that don’t immediately seem to go together — guns and grub.

In 2015, Bare’s husband, Billy, retired as a lieutenant from the Ashland Police Department.

“He had 22 years with the police and wanted a small retirement job,” she said. “He’s always loved guns, so we opened up a small gun range in Ashland, Kentucky.”

The gun range was a little remote in Ashland, but shooting enthusiasts immediately began coming out to the indoor range, many of them from Huntington, which led to some unexpected developments.

“The gas station up the road saw a 300 percent increase in business after we opened,” she said. “There wasn’t anything else around, so guys would come up to shoot and they’d stop at the gas station to buy pepperoni rolls or something.”

After a while, Bare said, customers began having pizzas delivered to the range.

It seemed like a lost opportunity.

The first location did so well that they quickly decided they wanted to open a second range, in Huntington. They began developing the property on 5th Street Road and immediately began thinking about selling food.

“We were thinking easy stuff,” she said. “Just do pepperoni rolls or sandwiches.”

The couple had no restaurant experience. Billy was a former police officer. Christy was an emergency room nurse. But as they were figuring out a plan, she met with food suppliers and equipment vendors who took her to local kitchens.

“It was ‘try this and try that,’” she said.

And she did. She tried a lot of different things and liked a lot of different things. Her original idea expanded from pepperoni rolls to pizzas, burgers and barbecue.

Then they brought on Teay McCoy as chef and Erich Siebel as kitchen manager and pit master, which Bare said has made all the difference.

“He smokes our meat every day,” she said. “Some of it gets started at night. Other things, we put in the smoker at 4 in the morning.”

Their most popular items, Bare said, are their loaded appetizers, which are covered in queso blanco and slow-smoked pulled pork and the mac ‘n’ cheese with pulled pork, but she added that they get compliments for their ribs and burgers.

The ribs are savory, slide-off-the-bone tender, and every table has a basket packed full of sauces to choose from — Carolina Gold, Apple Butter BBQ, Buffalo sauce and more.

“We make our own sauces and sell them,” she said.

Bare said she’s proud of what they do, although after almost a year in business, she’s planning on making some changes.

“I didn’t know what I was doing when I first started. Everything sounded good. I’m probably going to redo the menu in a little while,” she said.

As a nod to the gun store, the servers for Bombshells Burgers & BBQ open carry and have holstered pistols on their hips.

Customers will occasionally ask to take a picture. The staff just goes along with it.

“Some nights, we’ll go over to the shooting range after we close,” Bare said. “Everyone seems to like it.”

The shooting range stays busy, Bare said. Like a bowling alley, they have league nights where people shoot competitively. There are also days of the week set aside for specific groups that get a discount to use the range.

Active police and military get a discount on Wednesday. Seniors get Mondays, and Tuesdays are for the ladies.

“That’s my favorite,” she said. “When you get a group of guys come in to shoot, they can be all tough and macho, but the girls are just here to have fun. They’ll get back there and start giggling. They’ll swap guns like they’re swapping hats or purses.”

There’s even a date night.

“It’s something to do for an evening and different than going to a movie,” she said.

Customers can bring their own firearms or rent from the gun store for $10 an hour for pistols or $15 for long guns. The rental also allows customers to change out guns and try different firearms on for size.

The range features all the major guns brands, which are also for sale in the store.

Bare Arms and Bombshells Burgers & BBQ hosts corporate meetings and team-building sessions. The local hospital, Bare said, has a department that comes to the range to shoot for stress relief.

“We do birthday parties,” Christy said. “We do birthday parties for kids.”

That one surprised her at first, but the kids get a course on gun safety before they shoot.

“Safety is the most important thing,” she said. “And honestly, the kids have been great, so far. They know they have to listen.”

Bare Arms caters to the occasional shooting enthusiast and to regulars. They offer yearly memberships of $299, which can be cheaper if you use the range a lot. Buying a gun from the store includes a discounted membership and some time at the range.

The firearms store and range do pretty well, Bare said, but not as well as the restaurant.

“It’s kind of funny to me,” she said. “We started out as a gun store and range with a restaurant, and now we’re a restaurant with a gun store and range.”

There is some crossover in clientele. Unless you’re picking up takeout at the window outside, you have to walk through the gun store to get to the restaurant.

“People come in for lunch, and then they’ll take a walk through the store,” she said. “Sometimes, they’ll stop and watch the people in back shooting on the range.”

Toward the back of the gun store, there’s a wall of television screens connected to cameras focused on the range.

Some of those people decide to give it a try — not everybody, she said, but some do.

“And we have people who just come in to eat and they never look at anything,” Bare said and shrugged.

That was OK, too.

Bare said there are establishments similar to Bombshells Burgers & BBQ that serve alcohol, but Bombshells doesn’t. Also, neither food nor alcohol is permitted in the gun range.

In Florida, she said, the restaurant/ranges use a wristband ID system that tracks what customers order.

“If you have something to drink in the restaurant, you can’t shoot,” she said.

It still sounded a little risky, so they decided they didn’t need to serve alcohol.

“We just didn’t want people to think we were unsafe,” she said. “We’ve probably lost some business because we don’t have beer, but we’ve had calls from people telling us that they appreciate that we don’t serve alcohol.”

Find Bombshells Burgers & BBQ and Bare Arms Indoor Range at 2134 5th Street Road, Huntington. Phone 681-204-3994. Online at bombshellsbbq.com or on Facebook.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.