There was something in the air at Skippy’s hot dog joint in downtown Winston-Salem Saturday night.
For the last week, volunteers from downtown kitchens kept the place open while owner Mike Rothman underwent initial treatment for a brain tumor in Pennsylvania. More than 13,000 hot dogs went out over the high counter last week — cooked in a manner, it should be noted, far from the exacting processes Rothman instilled upon his menu — and as the clock wound down, exhaustion and goodwill overload gave everyone, patrons and volunteer staff alike, big, goofy grins.
The good people of Winston-Salem’s restaurant community raised more than $100,000 for Rothman in seven days, one of the most prodigious grassroots fundraising efforts in local history. And we daresay it’s a feat that could not be duplicated in either of the Triad’s other cities.
There’s really not much of a restaurant culture in High Point, outside of pop-up furniture market catering halls and the steakhouse at High Point University. Greensboro has a healthy downtown dining scene, but it’s hard to imagine Gate City restaurant owners throwing in together to help one of their own the way chefs down Business 40 did.
And that’s not to besmirch the other two cities so much as to point out that Winston-Salem has got something special going on.
The Camel City Renaissance began before the turn of the 21st Century. Projects big and small — the Arts District, the Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, BB&T Ballpark, the Innovation Quarter, Restaurant Row, Krankies — carried the momentum for more than a decade. The revolution was economic, cultural, entrepreneurial and social. And those who lived through it show a love for their city that others in the state should envy.
And nowhere is it more evident than in its restaurant scene.
In Winston-Salem, independent kitchens, bars and dining rooms share employees, parking spaces and other resources. They wear each other’s T-shirts and talk up everyone’s events, whether they’re directly involved or not. They’re sharing in the delight of a burgeoning restaurant scene — how long before the city spins out a James Beard Award winner? — and they know they are very much in it together.
In how many other cities would a dozen restaurant owners walk away from their kitchens to squeeze out a few bucks for a friend?
Not to be forgotten are the patrons, some of whom ate more than a dozen hot dogs during Mike’s Week, and each of whom contributed to the astounding six-figure total that must be some sort of historic first.
Restaurants close all the time. But an action like this is absolutely singular, and completely in keeping with the Camel City Renaissance.