Business: Ivan’s celebrates 20 years of fine dining

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 31, 2009

By Noelle Edwards
On Old Mocksville Road in Salisbury, there’s a business that isn’t shutting its doors and doesn’t have a For Sale sign in the front.
Recently, general manager Joe Sims did slash prices ó but not to eliminate inventory. He was celebrating the business’ 20th anniversary.
The business is Ivan’s, a restaurant that Sims describes as “fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere.”
His brother, Robert, started the restaurant in 1987, and Joe took over three years later and has operated it ever since.
Joe Sims said the intent was to build a restaurant in Salisbury so people wouldn’t have to drive to Charlotte or Greensboro when they wanted a nice dinner.
Some people have really taken advantage of it, Sims said. People come to celebrate all kinds of special anniversaries.
He said he’s seen several couples come to Ivan’s for a first date, then to get engaged, then for the wedding rehearsal dinner, then for wedding anniversaries.
One customer, James Hicks, came to celebrate his 60th anniversary of release from a Nazi concentration camp.
“That is absolutely amazing,” Sims said.
Dale Earnhardt came to Ivan’s in 2000, and the chef that night made the garnish with every dish a No. 3.
The Doles have also been to the restaurant, Sims said.
“It’s been really fun getting to know so many people,” he said.
He joked that it’s a family-owned restaurant so there are actually 21 owners.
In reality, his family has had a lot to do with how the restaurant has developed.
The very name comes from a family member, his father, Joe Ivan Sims.
Many of the cooking styles come from ideas his dad brought back from his travels as a salesman.
The house dressings are his mom’s recipes, the method of cooking shrimp is his brother’s, and his sister Barbara trained the waitstaff. And most of the recipes are his own.
He’s been in the restaurant business most of his life. He started cooking when he was 11, and he worked at a country club from 13 to 19 ó though in the beginning he had to lie about his age to get hired.
Eventually he became a sous chef at the country club, and then he owned his own restaurant in Raleigh.
“I don’t think there’s any facet of the restaurant business I don’t know,” Sims said.
He has the business background, too, having studied economics and business in college.
Ultimately, he hopes to turn Ivan’s over to someone of the next generation and open Ivan’s By the Sea on a quiet Carolina beach.
“I’m in no hurry to do all that,” he said.
In the meantime, he wants to develop healthier dishes.
Sims said he tries to feature dishes other restaurants wouldn’t have.
For instance, the recipe for mussels comes from a restaurant on the Las Vegas strip. Sims went to Charleston to taste for himself the shrimp for the shrimp and grits dish.
“Every day we try to better ourselves,” Sims said. “We don’t want people to just go out to eat. We don’t want to be a filling station. We want to be an experience.”
He also wants to make more people in Salisbury aware of Ivan’s.
He said you could ask 10 people in Salisbury and five wouldn’t know Ivan’s even exists.
“If we’re not one of the best kept secrets of Salisbury, I don’t know what is,” he said.
But he said the customers who come are loyal. He spends the vast majority of each night on the floor, interacting with people. He said a lot of times people need someone to listen to their problems, and he tries to be there for them when they’re going through a hard time.
The restaurant bears the mark of his customers. Stuffed animals and animal heads line the walls, brought in by customers, primarily Mocksville resident Dan Marion, Sims said.
Photos, martini shakers and other souvenirs testify to the people who eat at Ivan’s.
“They made me what I am today,” Sims said. “And they made this restaurant what it is.”