Emma’s of Salisbury offers casual dining, local food in restored cottage
Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles about new businesses that have opened in former crack houses on South Lee Street in the city’s entertainment district.
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Decades ago, when Allen Terry was in college in Asheville, he spent months designing and laying out a hypothetical restaurant in an old house to earn his hotel and restaurant management degree.
“I really got into that,” Terry says. “I thought, someday I’m going to do that. Someday, I will find the right spot.”
Many years and four restaurants later, Terry has found the right spot — a former crack house at 209 S. Lee St. that has been painstakingly restored and transformed into Emma’s of Salisbury.
Until he spotted the 140-year-old Victorian cottage, Terry said he had never found an old house worth the time and money it would take to create the casual dining experience he wanted.
“Once I saw this house, I said that must be my dream,” he said. “I had a vision when I saw it.”
Open for a month, Emma’s stands next to The Perfect Smoke, an upscale cigar shop in a matching cottage. Located in the city’s entertainment district near the back of City Hall, the Victorian cottages were eyesores and magnets for illicit activity for years.
Downtown Salisbury Inc. and the Salisbury Community Development Corp. bought the cottages, then used state grants to help put them in private hands for redevelopment.
Salisbury landed a $70,000 Main Street Solutions grant to put Emma’s at the strategic corner of South Lee and East Fisher streets. The grants were tied to how many jobs the projects would create, and Terry has hired 15 people — five full-time and 10 part-time.
He bought the house, which he described as “in really bad shape,” for $50,000. Restoring the cottage cost $186,000, and adding a commercial kitchen and equipping the restaurant was another $100,000, he said.
The house had been abused for years, Terry said. That didn’t phase Tim Klaus of Talk Enterprises, who served as general contractor for both cottages and spent about four months restoring each property.
“It is perfect for downtown,” Klaus said. “This was the last missing piece of the puzzle in that area.”
While Klaus has done many restorations in the downtown area, including work on the Hall House, he said this was the first time he’d tackled two former crack houses, side-by-side.
“I am really proud of how they turned out,” he said.
While the cottages were originally reported to be about 100 years old, Klaus has dated them to the 1870s.
Terry worked for Wendy’s for 16 years in the 1970s and 1980s, running seven stores in the Concord area, where he lives. He then owned and operated several restaurants, eventually opening the original Emma’s in Concord in 2004.
He declined to renew his lease in 2011 after problems with the property and started hunting for a new location. A good friend lives in Salisbury, which brought Terry to South Lee Street.
At age 65, Terry said he believes Emma’s of Salisbury is his final restaurant.
So far, business is better than expected, although breakfast has been slow, Terry said.
With seating for 48 inside, Terry added a deck with about 20 seats. He also has two tables on the front porch.
“It was crucial that I have the deck out back to do the kind of volume that I need to make this work,” he said. “Certain times of the year, this is going to be a big asset to me.”
Terry wants Emma’s to be a neighborhood restaurant where people feel comfortable and meet their friends. Nearly everything served is homemade with fresh, local ingredients, and Terry visits the Salisbury-Rowan Farmers Market twice a week to buy produce.
The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
The menu offers daily specials. Recent lunch specials included a whole fresh tomato filled with either chicken salad or tuna salad on a bed of fresh spring mix greens for $7.99, grilled pork medallions with fresh peach compote over wild rice with grilled vegetables for $8.99 and a grilled salmon patty with wild and long grain rice and grilled vegetables for $7.99.
Mark Lewis, president of Downtown Salisbury Inc., said people who love the transformations of Emma’s and The Perfect Smoke can look forward to more development on the south end of downtown.
“We’re not done yet,” Lewis said.
The city hopes to build a $7.37 million, three-story office building at 329 S. Main St. and lease it to the Rowan-Salisbury School System, which would bring 160 employees downtown. The project is considered key to landing a developer for Downtown Salisbury Inc.’s vacant Empire Hotel in the 200 block of South Main Street.
Integro Technologies is building a $3.2 million, two-story headquarters and business center in the 300 block of South Main, which will include about 25 employees and an auditorium that is expected to attract dozens of visitors each month for trainings and seminars.
If all the development moves ahead as planned, Emma’s will have about 200 people new to the downtown working within walking distance of the restaurant, Lewis said.
“As long as he has good food and good service, he’s going to be successful,” Lewis said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.