Uncle Bucks keeps blue-collar tradition in new, bigger location

JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST Server Rose Craver comes out of the kitchen with burgers and fries at the Uncle Buck's restaurant on South Main Street in Salisbury.
JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST Server Rose Craver comes out of the kitchen with burgers and fries at the Uncle Buck's restaurant on South Main Street in Salisbury.

SALISBURY — The third time’s the charm, Uncle Buck says.

Uncle Bucks All American Pub & Grub

Uncle Bucks

Where: 127 S. Main St.

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sundays.

Who: Owners Buck and Judy Howard

Contact: 704-633-3750

Buck Howard and wife Judy Howard have moved their popular restaurant for the third — and they hope the final — time, now located at 127 S. Main St. in the former Club Liqwid.

With three times more space and double the staff, Uncle Bucks All American Pub & Grub opened a week ago to customers hungry for the restaurant’s return after a five-week hiatus to shut down the previous location on East Innes Street and move around the corner to its new home.

The eatery was originally located on South Main Street across from Chestnut Hill Cemetery, where Rick’s Barbecue and Grill now operates.

When he founded the business nearly seven years ago, Buck said well-meaning customers told him to add footlongs and barbecue to his menu. He refused to conform.

“There are 30 restaurants in Salisbury that make a great footlong and a great barbecue sandwich,” he said. “Why would I want to compete with that? I wanted to do different.”

So the Howards built a loyal following with a huge, 90-plus item menu featuring everything from 10 signature hamburgers to “yard bird salad” to chipotle glazed tilapia.

“We’re always a restaurant first, that serves a little bit of alcohol,” Buck said. “We’ve never been a bar that serves a little bit of food. And we do the music because we love it.”

Turning the former nightclub into a family-friendly restaurant with a bar and stage was no easy task. The Howards had help from landlord David Oestreicher to renovate the property, including demolishing walls, refinishing floors and installing new lighting and a commercial kitchen.

The couple declined to disclose their investment, but customers can tell it was sizeable. They signed a five-year lease with two five-year options.

In other words, Buck said, they plan to stay a while.

Almost nothing is recognizable from the property’s notorious days as Club Liqwid, which was a goal, Buck Howard said. He salvaged what he could during the demolition but often transformed it, for example using two old doors to create a long “community table” that can seat 20 people.

He moved the nightclub’s bar across the room, shortened it and plans to use it for Uncle Bucks’ upcoming potato, soup and salad bar, a new lunch feature aimed at people who need to get in and out quickly.

Uncle Bucks now occupies 6,900 square feet, up from 2,300 square feet on East Innes. The new restaurant can seat 151 people, up from 77.

The new kitchen is three times bigger, and servers have their own room, keeping down the chaos in the kitchen, where son Jake Howard is the chef.

Larry Stirewalt served as general contractor for the project, and Gray Stout was the architect.

Buck’s favorite part of the new location is clearly the full-time, designated stage. No more moving tables and chairs to accommodate a band, as he did in the former location.

The restaurant boasts in-house sound and lighting systems and will feature live music nearly every Friday and Saturday night, starting around 10 p.m. Big Break of Salisbury will play the first live show Friday night, followed on Saturday by rocker Stevie Tombstone from Syracuse, N.Y.

The Howards are expecting big crowds. But even before the first band takes the stage, at least a dozen instruments stand ready. Buck owns them all but says he can’t play a single one.

The guitars, drums, bass, piano and banjo are available to any brave soul who wants to perform in front of a crowded restaurant.

“If they’re good enough, I might buy them a beer,” Buck said. “If they’re really good, I might ask them to open for the next show. If they suck, I’ll pull the plug.”

Uncle Bucks will continue popular Bike Night from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and plans to add a Classic Car Night every other Thursday, starting this week. Some construction continues on the outside of the building, and a new awning should go up soon.

The restaurant employs 30 part-time and full-time workers, up from 17 at the former location, and features for the first time a private dining room with its own bar.

The Howards reused tables and chairs from their previous location, supplemented by 30 new, padded barstools from Tilley’s Harley Davidson. Powles Funeral Home provided a special receptacle for tattered American flags, which will be properly handled, and an entire wall in the new restaurant is dedicated to U.S. military veterans.

Livingstone College and Catawba College, as well as all Rowan County high schools, display paraphernalia in the restaurant, and customers exit under an area covered with T-shirts from the Howards’ favorite bands.

Brown Dog Lighting and Home Lighting, both of Salisbury, used dozens of old Patron bottles to create unique pendant lights and chandeliers hanging throughout the restaurant.

Despite the larger, newly renovated location, Uncle Bucks remains a working-class restaurant, the owner said. The two familiar, old-fashioned picnic tables still welcome diners outside.

“We’re blue collar. This is blue collar,” Buck said, looking around. “That’s who we appeal to, and that’s who we are.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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