A cafe in Hinton is now a popular spot for creative, healthy, local food.
When it comes to life-changing “aha” moments, it doesn’t get any more goose-bumpy than this.
After moving to West Virginia for college and deciding she wanted to stay here, California-born Sarah Gleason spent several years working as a volunteer and teacher. But having grown up watching the Food Network and bartending her way through college, she’d always had a passion for cooking and service. That desire had percolated for years, until she was at the beach one summer and everything changed.
“We were playing mini-golf really late and were the last ones to leave when I had to go to the bathroom,” she recalls. “They had already closed, but they let me back in. When I walked into the stall, there was a really shabby copy of Anthony Bourdain’s iconic book No Reservations sitting there. I was so interested in his story, and since the place was empty, I thought, ‘I’m taking this book to read on the beach!’”
The very next morning, her partner shook her awake with the news that Bourdain had committed suicide overnight. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to read this right now,’” Gleason remembers. She devoured the whole book on that trip and decided, right then and there, to quit her teaching job and start cooking for a living. She started out working in a small restaurant in Hinton, until it closed during COVID-19, then bounced around a few restaurants in Lewisburg and Beckley—and even did a little catering out of her home.
“Then one day, I realized what I truly wanted was to have my own place where food, health, and community could all come together.” Not long after that, the space she’s currently in presented itself through an email received out of the blue from someone looking for new folks to take over their building. “And that’s what led me to opening Lucky Rivers Cafe.”
Call it fate. A coincidence. Divine intervention. “I don’t know what to think of it all,” she says, a hint of amazement in her voice, “but a year and a half later, here I am. And I’m so grateful everything worked out the way it did.” Now she’s living her dream, serving “wholesome, unique, and locally conscious” food from a former restaurant in downtown Hinton known simply as “the diner” back in the day.
That food includes the restaurant’s signature Buddha Belly Bowl—kale, sweet potatoes, goat cheese, candied pecans, pistachios, pickled onions, avocado, and couscous topped with tahini-maple vinaigrette—and the popular Prime Rib Gyro, a house-roasted beef sandwich with cucumber–coriander tzatziki, grilled onions, sun-dried tomatoes, feta, and greens inside toasted naan. There’s also Gail’s Pimiento Cheese served on sourdough and amped up with bacon, a fried egg, and caramelized onions, or the Tangy Roast Beef with sharp white cheddar, caramelized onions, herby buttermilk ranch, and local greens on buttered brioche. “You can’t go wrong with that roast beef sandwich,” Gleason promises. “It’s so dang good.”
But so are the Jambon Beurre French ham sandwich with brie, Swiss, herbed butter, and local sprouts; the J Burger veggie patty made with curried carrot and white beans and topped with miso slaw, grilled pineapple, pineapple BBQ, and local greens; and the Surf & Turf Tacos with ponzu-marinated ahi tuna, prime rib, greens, cucumber pico, cilantro, cotija, and avocado vinaigrette.
“We also do a lot of specials and just served this coconut milk–braised goat brisket with cilantro, mint, pineapple pico, and a tahini–coconut drizzle with crushed peanuts and toasted pepitas on top,” she says. “It was like a flavor explosion.”
Lucky Rivers also makes all of its own baked goods, like a banana carrot coriander cake with mascarpone cream cheese frosting and a lemon icebox pie in honor of the old diner’s beloved owner. “And there’s the Lucky Brownie, which is only the best brownie ever,” Gleason claims, dropping hints—like tahini and Guinness syrup—as to what makes it so.
“People ask all the time, ‘So what kind of restaurant is this?’ And I can’t explain it. I just want to bring really delicious food to the people of West Virginia who may never get the opportunity to try some of these things otherwise. It’s been wild, it’s crazy, but we’re having so much fun.”
All thanks to an old book found in a mini-golf bathroom.