It’s time to take the temperature of Triad restaurants. Summer is upon us and while the weather is hot, the water seems lukewarm at best.
While the ebb and flow of openings and closings is quite steady and regular, the abrupt and unforeseen shuttering of a beloved restaurant can seem like a death in the family. Fortunately, there will always be someone waiting in the wings, ready to take its place.
Just as schools began to close for the summer, news came of some area restaurants closing down — Uncle Buzzy’s, Hutch and Harris, Table on Elm and, Let It Grow Produce, just to name a few.
But not all of the closing restaurant apocalypse news is bad.
Hutch and Harris is shutting down for an undetermined period of time, but its auxiliary Side Bar is still open. Table on Elm is simply consolidating baking operations into its space in Asheboro.
Dave Hillman, owner of Uncle Buzzy’s, Quiet Pint Tavern and both Burke Street Pizza locations, shut down all social- media profiles and rented a U-Haul to remove equipment from the diminutive storefront space. The operation had a small footprint, with just a handful of employees, but the impact rippled through online Winston-Salem social-media groups, with many speculating on the cause. Hillman answered the question himself via on a post via Facebook on June 9:
“[I]t was not the Business 40 closing that caused Buzzy’s to fail! Rather it was several misguided decisions made by me.”
He ends by saying, “As far as Uncle Buzzy’s goes, he’s not dead. I have big plans for that building.”
The Business 40 shutdown has affected restaurants throughout downtown Winston-Salem and its environs. It’s not easy to get from the east to the west side of the city or down into Brookstown District anymore. The detours have become clogged, traffic is not as flowing as it once was down Restaurant Row, aka Fourth Street.
When asked about restaurants opening and closing, Caitlin Smith, a regular restaurant patron said, “It takes longer to get anywhere. When you get home, the last thing you want to do is fight traffic to get to the other side of town.”
Everyone must adapt to survive. But not everyone is as up-front about it as Hillman.
Some suggestions for survival during the long, hot summer: Expand summer hours, pull back the reigns of menu changes, simplify menus, control the message a help or a hindrance to business, sound the trumpet to let the world know of the changes.
But not everything looks dull and bleak across the Triad culinary scene. Lill Dipper, a cash-only walk-up ice-cream cone, new branding opportunities like the former Mad Hatter now called the Social on Friendly Avenue in Greensboro, new food trucks and planned breweries are popping up across the Triad. Even High Point is making strides with a high-end seafood restaurant, Coast.
Open only three weeks, owner Joseph Bradford of Lill Dipper and originator of Hoots Flea Market said his customer base has changed.
“I have people driving here from Yadkinville and Greensboro with their kids to our little microbusiness here,” he said.
In contrast, Bradford and his business partner, Rachel McKenzie, jointly owned Tin Can, a sundries and gift shop next door but recently decided to shutter the business in order to decide on the next pivot.
“We might change it into a bottle shop where we pour kegged beer and wine on tap,” Bradford says with a smile.
“We don’t know.”
Other restaurants have not felt a negative shift in the air at all.
“We prepared for the shut down,” says Executive Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant Kitchen and Bar in Winston-Salem. “Reservations are up, and business has actually gotten better.”
He credits checking in with other downtown business owners periodically with staying afloat.
While the construction is ahead of schedule, fingers are crossed for a smooth transition during the uprooting of the highway and area restaurants are “cautiously optimistic” about the season ahead and what it will bring.
Nikki Miller-Ka blogs on her website here. and all social-media channels. Her column appears every week.