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Business Pulse - Auto restoration in high gear
Car guy.jpg
Iconic Metal Works owner Korey Gray stands in front of a 1951 Ford F1 that he’s restoring at his local shop on Shellsbord Road. Gray specializes in metal shaping and automotive restoration and can be reached at (661) 340-9510.

The rock band Queen once sang “I’m In Love With My Car.”

The Beatles offered a playful little ditty, “Baby You Can Drive My Car.”

As proud Americans, we seem to love our automobiles, our monster trucks, even our lawnmowers. If we can drive it, it seems to hold a special place in our hearts. 

Korey Gray has opened a new business in Warren County called Iconic Metal Works. He specializes in metal shaping and vehicle restoration, no matter the amount of work involved.

“I do a lot of work for people who have had old cars sitting around in their garage for years,” said Korey. “They’ve wanted to restore the car, but they never have done it. I can take it to any level you want. Most people have a budget and know what they want to spend. We can talk about what needs to be done and see if it works within that budget.”

Korey is renowned for his world-class skill. He spent years restoring a 1955 Cadillac Coupe Deville that placed in the Top 8 last year in the Detroit Autorama show. Korey says that Cadillac is a $1.3 million vehicle.

Korey is from Bakersfield, Calif., a town that bills itself as the Hotrod Capital. The city is north of Los Angeles. Korey started his business in Bakersfield in 2008 after working as an apprentice for Indy Car driver George Snider. That’s when he became fascinated with custom fabrication.

Korey and his wife Jordan found their way to Tennessee about four years ago and had been living in Nashville when Jordan said, “We wanted out of the city.”

They began looking for places to move and found a charming spot on Shellsford Road overlooking the Collins River. “It had only been on the market 36 hours when we saw it,” said Korey, who quickly snatched it up. Korey and Jordan decided to bring their young family here with their adorable newborn son and they have been in Warren County since September.

Jordan said she was thinking of ways to get the word out about Iconic Metal Works when the countywide edition of the Southern Standard was delivered to her home free of charge about two weeks ago. She enjoyed reading the paper and thought it would be a great way to promote Korey’s new business here.

“There’s no one in the state of Tennessee who does what I do,” said Korey, who said two shops in Nashville send him metal fabrication work because of his expertise. He can do wiring, motor work and replacement, and any type of mechanical upgrade.

Korey said one common request is to add air conditioning to an old vehicle which doesn’t have AC. He can do that and upgrade any old wiring in the process.

“Most of your wiring in cars from the 1930s and ’40s is pretty much shot by now,” said Korey. “New wiring is much more efficient and you won’t be blowing fuses.”

He said classic car restoration has become extremely popular in recent years.

“A lot of the people restoring old cars are baby boomers who had a favorite car growing up but couldn’t afford it when they were younger,” said Korey. “Now they are older and have a little more money available and they’re building the car of their dreams. Restoration is the only option. They’re not making them anymore. You can’t go to the dealership and buy one.”

 Korey says he will tackle any aspect of the restoration process except for the paint and upholstery work. 

With some acreage surrounding his home, Korey says he has room to grow his shop if needed. He says as work picks up, he will hire employees if he finds he needs the help.

Iconic Metal Works can be reached at (661) 340-9510.

Branded Boutique

Opens online

There’s no doubt the buying habits of U.S. consumers has shifted. We’re ordering more from Amazon and having it delivered to our door. We’re taking advantage of curbside delivery and not even stepping foot inside Walmart.

Twenty-five years ago, who would have ever imagined we’d go shopping for clothes by watching a live stream on our phone. Back then, the phone was still connected to the wall by a cord.

Branded Boutique is an online clothing store in Warren County that’s been open about two months. Tiffany Hillis started the boutique with her mother-in-law Melody Hillis.

“We try to carry just about everything from small sizes up to 3X,” said Tiffany. “We have shoes, jeans and a wide selection. We also offer free shipping.”

While Branded Boutique sales are conducted primarily online, Tiffany and Melody have been making appearances at regional events to get their name out. They have a booth at the DeKalb County Women’s Expo this coming Saturday in Smithville and they had a booth at the Project Graduation Car Show last weekend at Warren County High School.

To purchase clothing, there is a Facebook Live show every Tuesday at 8 p.m. To find it, go to Facebook and search for “The Branded Boutique.”

“The show usually lasts about an hour,” said Tiffany. “Customers can comment and we answer questions. It’s a fun show and we have new stuff every week.”

Tiffany says she appreciates people who are willing to shop small and support local businesses. She encourages anyone interested to join her Facebook group.

Japanese food truck

Opens to crowds

A.J. Viza and his wife, Pau, own a Japanese restaurant in Atlanta. They were looking to get out of the city of traffic jams and explore calmer waters.

“We looked at several places,” said A.J. “We looked in Chattanooga and in Cookeville trying to find the right spot.”

They decided on the old Crouch Motors location on Sparta Street near the underpass. They opened Tako Hibachi Sushi 10 days ago on a Thursday and have been stunned at the response. There have been huge crowds at all hours of the day.

“We open the window and boom, people start lining up,” said A.J. “I’ve been really surprised at the number of people. I’m in there cooking nonstop all day long. To have a full house and a full parking lot in a small town like this has been great. Hopefully it’s because people love the food. There’s only one other place to get food like this in McMinnville. In Atlanta, there’s a Japanese restaurant at every exit.”

A.J. says sushi and hibachi grill items have both been big sellers. Chicken Ramen is a popular dish and when it comes to sushi they created a special item, the McMinnville Roll, just for our area.

Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., although the food truck has had to close early some days due to running out of food. “We cook fresh every day and that’s why we’ve been running out sometimes,” said A.J.

There are several tables available for indoor dining inside the old Crouch Motors building behind the food truck. A picnic table is set out on nice days.

New Mexican

Restaurant is open

It was in last week’s column when I wrote that Alberto Lavenant was waiting on his final health inspection so he could open Ricas Tortas Hana at Plaza Shopping Center.

Alberto did in fact get a thumbs-up inspection on Monday and he opened on Tuesday. He says business has been steady and he was pleased to show that his food has received one 5-star review online from a satisfied customer.

Alberto prepared one of his famous sandwiches for me on Friday and I must confess it was delicious. He has tangy and spicy sauces available depending on your preference for heat.

Alberto says his prices are better than any other Mexican restaurant in town and his food is authentic. He’s open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

The restaurant is located behind Citizens Tri-County Bank and next to Somewhere Liquors in the old Gondola spot. The phone number is (931) 304-8043,

Speaking of Gondola, did you know it’s been located at its current building for 10 years? Here’s a trivia question to test your McMinnville restaurant knowledge.

Most of us know that before Gondola was located at that spot it was Shoney’s. But in between Shoney’s and Gondola, there was another restaurant that operated in that building for around three years. For 10 bonus points, name that restaurant!



According to figures released Thursday by the state, there were 10,847 unemployment claims filed in Tennessee for the week ending April 3.

It was exactly one year ago on the week ending April 4, 2020 that there were 116,141 unemployment claims filed in one week in Tennessee. That’s after the state forced many “non-essential” businesses to close and the economy was sent into a momentary tailspin.

All things considered, and I know the business climate is far from perfect, I’d say we’ve managed to bounce back quickly. An absolutely booming real estate market helps, and three rounds of government checks haven't hurt either.

That’s all folks

The answer to this week’s trivia question is Andy’s Restaurant operated at the old Shoney’s spot for about three years before closing. When Andy’s closed, Gondola moved in and owner Jimmy Zavogiannis created one of the great restaurants in McMinnville.

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