by Jordan Green
A new barbecue game room will fill out the southeastern corner of the downtown Winston-Salem entertainment district.
When customers walk through Camel City BBQ Factory’s main entrance on Liberty Street, the first thing they’ll see is a set of hand-washing sinks. That’s a touch owner Steve Doumas borrowed from the lunch spots that thronged Winston-Salem and the surrounding countryside 75 years ago, when factory workers and farmers had need to wash their hands before partaking of the midday meal.
The restaurant’s name pays homage to Winston-Salem’s manufacturing legacy, and fittingly the Winston Factory Lofts are right across the street, but when the two-story facility opens at the end of June, it will be more of a palace than a factory.
His father opened his first restaurant, the Dixie Grill, in a lean-to attached to the 1927 stucco warehouse that Doumas has under renovation. Doumas has worked in restaurants operated by various family members all his life, and in many ways this new venture represents a homecoming.
“It’s like coming back full circle to where my dad started,” Doumas said on a recent Friday afternoon. “My dad came down and walked through the building. He remembered where the freight elevator was. He said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s where Session Specialty [department store] was. That’s where the furniture store was.’”
Camel City BBQ Factory will operate on two different levels.
“Our concept is eat, drink and play — all under one roof,” he said. “This three-ring circus going on all around you, it still revolves around a barbecue sandwich and a cold drink.”
Doumas envisions every part of the two-story facility offering a different experience. On the first floor, patrons will be able to grab a quick bite to eat if they’re on lunch break or in a hurry, while also catering to barbecue’s more serious connoisseurs.
On a recent Friday, Doumas showed off the restaurant’s new smoker.
“For that guy that’s a barbecue fanatic, he wants to see you cooking it,” Doumas said. “I want this atmosphere of barbecue to feel so paleo that you can hear the drums in the distance.”
Doumas said the restaurant will serve a combination of Lexington-style barbecue and Texas-style brisket.
For those with more time and an urge to play, the second floor will be equipped with a family-friendly bar area and game room with several pool tables, vintage video games, foosball and basketball shooting games — “kind of a Chuck E. Cheese for adults,” as Doumas describes it. The restaurant will also include private rooms for birthday parties and corporate events, along with retracting walls to provide for café-style dining when the weather is nice.
Camel City BBQ Factory is only the latest addition Winston-Salem’s downtown entertainment district, a stretch of real estate at the north end of Trade Street developed by partners Hank Perkins and Drew Gerstmyer. Over the past 15 years, the partners have been acquiring properties north of Seventh Street, an area mostly notable for the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission’s services to the poor and underused warehouses until the end of the last decade.
Similar to the arrangement with Camel City BBQ Factory, Perkins and Gerstmyer own several properties that are leased to various food, drink and music venues, each with a unique appeal that together comprise a cohesive district with an organic feel.
The District Roof Top Bar & Grille anchors the center of the partners’ real estate empire in a block bounded by Trade Street to the west, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to the north, Liberty Street to the east and Seventh Street to the south. Perkins and Gerstmyer’s real estate holdings on the block also include Mary’s Gourmet Diner and Mission Pizza Napoletana, which opened last year. North of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, the partners own the building and property of Ziggy’s, along with the Angelo Brothers Wholesale Supply building where they have discussed putting an amphitheater, and 1.2-acre tract on the other side of the railroad tracks.
The partners also own the Big Winston Tobacco Warehouse, which houses Black Mountain Chocolate and will soon be home to Broad Branch Distillery. Doumas’ father is involved in the latter venture, and the son said Camel City BBQ Factory will definitely keep their product in stock.
All told, the Perkins and Gerstmyer’s holdings in the North Trade Street area total $7.6 million. In 2013, Gerstmyer successfully petitioned city council to rezone the partners’ properties as an entertainment district, an official category that exempts the tenants from the city’s noise ordinance and allows retail and residential development without threatening the viability of entertainment businesses.
Camel City BBQ Factory extends the block of properties developed by Perkins and Gerstmyer to the southeast, occupying a fork where Liberty and Main streets split. The new restaurant also contributes to the reactivation of Liberty Street, once relatively dormant compared to the thriving Arts District one block to the west on Trade Street. While Camel City BBQ Factory ties into the newly opened Artivity on the Green art park, it also creates a new linkage between Trade Street and BioTech Place in the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.
Doumas had been thinking about a venture like Camel City BBQ Factory for about five years, but Perkins and Gerstmyer’s acquisition of the property in 2013 dictated the form that the project would take. Doumas said he’s in awe of the vision the two developers have rolled out over the past 15 years since they acquired their first parcel.
Gerstmyer has assisted Doumas in developing the concept for Camel City BBQ Factory.
“Drew is an incredibly smart guy,” Doumas said. “His mind is moving a million miles a second.
“With this project, we asked, ‘What in the craziest realms is possible?’” he continued. “Some people start with the most practical option and then see how far they can take it. We start out in the furthest reaches and then dial it back in.”
Among Gerstmyer’s touches was acquiring two water tanks that will be placed on legs outside the restaurant. Doumas suggested they will help create an illusion, maybe as a repository for barbecue sauce. They will almost certainly reinforce the industrial feel of the repurposed warehouse.
“I’m a huge fan of Disney, how they make things fun, but underneath there’s a really good product,” Doumas said. “If you can make a really good sandwich, and then create a really fun experience around it, I feel like you can knock it out of the park.”