Gallagher column: Eat Mor Chikin, see more celebrities
Eat mor chikin, meet mor celebrities. At least, that’s the way Bo Hawkins sees it.
Hawkins thinks he is the luckiest owner of any eating establishment in Salisbury. He seems to open the doors to his Chick-fil-A restaurant every morning anticipating a famous face walking in to, well, eat mor chikin. That’s what happens sometimes at certain restaurants so close to the interstate, in this case, I-85.
“It’s amazing,” Hawkins said one day last week just before the lunch rush. “You look up and just see these people.”
Hawkins ripped off a few examples:
David Thompson: The former N.C. State skywalker used the store as a main stop when he worked for the Charlotte Hornets. He always sought out Hawkins personally.
“He lived in the Triangle and came in at least a couple of times a month,” Hawkins said.
Skip Prosser: The late Wake Forest basketball coach stopped in a couple of seasons ago to eat a day after beating Miami. He was driving to Kings Mountain on a recruiting trip. Hawkins gave him a free meal.
“He was blown away by the fact anyone recognized him,” Hawkins said.
Prosser’s untimely death hit Hawkins hard.
“When I first heard, I envisioned standing here talking to him and what great shape he was in.”
Chuck Nevitt: Not quite the skywalker Thompson was at N.C. State, but you have to look skyward to stare into the 7-foot-5 center’s eyes.
“Obviously, Chuck Nevitt was easy to spot,” Hawkins said. “Not a lot of 7-5 guys walk into your restaurant.”
Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski: Hawkins is a graduate of North Carolina and made a little face when the two Duke assistant coaches walked in. But they earned some respect from Hawkins (well, a little) by being great with the customers, signing autographs.
Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton: “They always draw a big crowd,” Hawkins said of the NASCAR drivers.
Philip Rivers: The N.C. State quarterback visited with his wife and daughter soon after he became a San Diego Charger. He was wearing a Chargers jersey.
Hawkins remembers, “We had a big State fan working for us and Rivers took pictures with him.”
It was one of the few times Hawkins actually called a friend. The Wolfpack fanatic couldn’t come, but his grandfather did.
You might notice that the former Tar Heel hasn’t mentioned any of his alma mater’s names coming in lately.
“No Roy or Dean Smith or MJ,” Hawkins sighed. “I might be a little awestruck if one of them walked in. But I don’t think those guys can walk into any place without being mobbed.”
The closest Hawkins has gotten to a North Carolina star was when he struck up a conversation with a tall guy wearing all Carolina Blue, claiming to be Tyler Hansbrough’s uncle.
“He let everybody know who he was,” Hawkins laughed.
It’s the celebrities from Salisbury, like Houston Rocket Bobby Jackson, who make practically no impression on the customers.
“He doesn’t draw a big crowd because everyone knows him,” Hawkins said. “Bobby’s great to work with.”
He chuckles about the celebrities his staff doesn’t know. When Hawkins first got out of UNC and started working for Chick-fil-A, he ran the store at the mall. He fed Elizabeth Dole’s mother, Mary Hanford, regularly.
One day, she brought in Elizabeth and Bob Dole.
“Bob Dole,” Hawkins recalled. “None of my employees knew who he was. And this was right before he ran for president!”
The employees may not have known Dole, but they rarely have trouble spotting a celebrity from TV or movies. Reality shows like Survivor and American Idol have produced some screeches from the customers. Clay Aiken, for example, drew plenty of oohs and ahhs.
George Clooney stopped by during the filming of “Leatherheads” but had his driver do the honors of getting mor chikin.
“If Clooney had come in, we’d have been worried,” Hawkins smiled.
Who created the biggest stir? Lil’ Bow Wow (now known simply as Bow Wow). His short appearance in Salisbury had the place in an uproar.
“We were very busy at the time,” Hawkins said. “It was right in the middle of lunch. He drew a big crowd around him.”
After Bow Wow’s tour bus came pulling in, a crew filmed his every move as he strolled around the restaurant.
“He’s a little guy, but all of my employees knew him,” Hawkins said.
Including his two sons. Just a couple of weeks earlier, he had bought the movie “Like Mike ” for the boys.
“He didn’t look much different than he did in the movie,” Hawkins said.
It all makes going to work every day exciting for the Kinston native. And the best part of being the owner is that he has plenty of time to hobnob with them all.
“I can do what I want,” he laughed. “I’m not tied down to a cash register.”
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.