DOBSON — A public fear has become reality as a beloved restaurant in the county seat will not be allowed to reopen.
Last month, the meeting room was packed for the July session of the Surry County Board of Commissioners. Several people said they came out in support of Sue’s Restaurant, which had been shut down for repairs.
Now the operators of the restaurant are left homeless as the county announces that the building will be torn down.
In 2016 the county board voted to purchase the whole Dobson Plaza property, which not only included the main building where the former Just Save/Lowes Food grocery store was, but also Sue’s on the other side of the parking lot.
The county has refurbished the main structure and has begun to move some operations inside with plans for it to hold the county tax office, board of elections, N.C. Cooperative Extension and some state and federal agencies based in town such as Natural Resources Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The building that housed Sue’s is about four decades old, starting out as a Hardee’s, noted Eddie Harris, board chairman. It has numerous issues that would require time and money in order to get the building up to code, he said. And even if the county did that, taxpayers would still own a 40-year-old building that started out as a fast-food place and might not have been as well constructed as the typical building.
At the July meeting, several people including diners and employees alike made an emotional appeal to the board to get the building fixed fast.
“It’s more than a business,” said Sarah Southern, of the restaurant. “We are a family to everyone.” The restaurant owners, Ray and Sue, have done many things for the community such as donate food to the needy and sponsor youth sports teams.
One man shed tears as he talked about how he took his grandchildren there to eat every week, but he couldn’t take them there anymore.
MaryAnn Hester said her family eats at Sue’s twice a week. The diner is more than just a business, but a place of community where friends gather, she told the board.
Repairs too costly
“County officials had been working for several months with the owners of Sue’s Restaurant to arrange floor repairs in the kitchen area estimated to cost $20,000,” said a news release from the office of County Manager Chris Knopf.
“Once the repairs were underway, contractors discovered that interior and exterior walls in the kitchen area had rotted, creating serious structural deficiencies. Repair estimates for the walls ranged from $100,000 to $142,000.”
Tony Chilton, an architect with Brite Engineering Consultants in Pilot Mountain, has been consulting on work in the government building. The county enlisted Chilton’s services in regards to the restaurant as well.
After investigating the condition, the county board said Chilton recommended demolition rather than spending additional funds in an attempt to make the building structurally sound.
The county board held a closed session on July 25 “to consult with attorney and discuss economic development,” according to a special notice provided by Knopf two days before the meeting.
After hearing from Chilton and County Attorney Ed Woltz, the commissioners chose to terminate the lease with Sue’s Restaurant “based on a provision giving the landlord the option to cancel the lease when the building is damaged or destroyed by any hazard not covered by insurance,” according to the news release.
“The board regrets the impact of its decision on the restaurant’s owners and employees,” said the release. “But the board agrees with the observations of the architect and the recommendation of the county attorney that the cost to make the existing building structurally sound would not be a good use of public funds.”
Harris said Friday that he wishes the Southern family well, but doesn’t know what might be available in town on the real estate market.
The Southerns posted on the Sue’s Facebook page:
“We are trying and praying very hard to find another place to rent so we can open Sue’s again. But we want all our customers and employees to know how much we love and appreciate you all, which there’s no way we can Thank you all enough. If it hadn’t been for you all and God’s blessings, we couldn’t have been there for 14 years. Please if anyone knows of a place we can get, let us know. Hope to see you all at Sue’s again very soon.”
Another Dobson food operator said off the record that he had been looking to expand his business from delivery/takeout to also having seated dining, but he just hadn’t found suitable space in Dobson, which doesn’t bode well for Sue’s.
Harris said that he at least is glad that the old Lantern Restaurant is back under new management.
Hopes tied to
With U.S. 601 being expanded to four lanes between Mount Airy and Dobson over the next few years, Harris said not only will that make it easier for Dobson folks to run over to the busy Rockford Street area near Walmart, but it might also bring more investment dollars into Dobson as the two municipalities come closer together.
From the Dobson Plaza lot to Sheetz in Mount Airy is 6.3 miles.
Harris also said he didn’t think the county would entertain the idea of rebuilding a restaurant on the site once the building is demolished. He didn’t think the county needed to speculate tax dollars on a business venture. With the demolition of Sue’s, the only other restaurant on county-owned land is Shiki in Elkin, which is part of the parcel with the Surry Community College center near the intersection of Bridge and C.C. Camp roads.
As for the lot in Dobson, Harris said the county may have other needs in the future, so it makes sense to hold on to the land for now and just use it for a parking lot rather than to buy more land later on if the need arises.
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.