How Motor Supply got its name

By:Gwen Fowler


Popular Col​u​mbia restaurant Motor S​upply Co. Bistro almost didn’t open with that name.

In fact, the plan was to call it Vista Café, to note its location in Colu​mbia’s Vista. But that was before the beautiful old neon sign that proudly hangs outside the restaurant was discovered during renovation.

Owner Eddie Wales said the neon sign was built by Colite sign​ company in Columbia in the 1930s. Motor Supply Co. was the name of the auto parts store that operated out of the old building from the 1930s until the late 1960s or early 1970s.

“Every once in a while, we get a phone call for someone looking for an engine block,” Wales said.

The building dates from the 1890s. From about 1900 to 1920, it was home to a grocery store, Wales said. Several old photos of the building hang in the entrance of the restaurant, and one shows a group of grocers standing out in front of the building, with some women and children on a second-floor balcony.

The neon sign hung on the front of the building on Gervais Street when it was an auto parts store. Now it hangs over the side entrance to the restaurant.

Wales began working at the restaurant as a server in January 1990, about a week after it opened. Within two years, he was general manager. He later moved to Athens, Ga., while his wife went to veterinary school there. They moved back to Columbia in 2000, and he took over his old job. He also bought the restaurant that year.

Another piece of history in the old building comes from the Northeast – from the New Jersey shore. The bar from the old Germania Hotel, bought from an antiques dealer in the Five Points area, has a place of honor in the restaurant.

Motor Supply specializes in farm-to-table dishes, with a new handwritten menu being offered each day.