College Bar-B-Que on hiatus

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
Imagine working for 48 years without a vacation.
That’s how things are at College Bar-B-Que, a restaurant which has been open and largely unchanged since 1963.
And the time has come for some much-needed remodeling.
Owner Jay Owen said his barbecue restaurant at 117 Statesville Blvd. will be open today and Thursday “until the food runs out.”
After that, the restaurant will be closed for about six weeks for renovations.
“It’s the first time we’ve closed our doors,” Owen said. He bought College Bar-B-Que in 1998.
Typically, he said, the restaurant is open seven days a week, with full breakfast, lunch and dinner service every day except Mondays and Saturdays.
But time has caught up with the restaurant. The roof leaks. The air conditioning system is fitful.
And the plumbing doesn’t have another year left in it, Owen said.
While equipment has been replaced over the years, “it’s the same ’60s engineering,” he said.
To his knowledge, the restaurant has never been remodeled.
Owen said he debated tearing down the building next door, which he also owns, and constructing an all-new restaurant on that site.
His customers didn’t like that idea, so he decided to close long enough to tear out old equipment and fixtures and replace them.
Concord-based Crescent Construction is doing the work.
Being closed for six weeks will impact a lot of lives, especially at a place as busy as College Bar-B-Que.
Owen said he was doing all he could to ease his staff through the weeks ahead.
His 14 employees found out about the closure back in September.
Waitress Courtney Modlin said she was able to save some money and plan for the weeks she’d be out of work.
“I’m going to be collecting the small bit of unemployment we’re going to get,” Modlin said.
And Owen is doing what he can to ease the transition.
What’s more, customers have offered to pitch in as well.
On Tuesday, one regular brought a red velvet cake for the staff. Others are asking about them and promising to keep in touch.
“We’ve had customers tell us, ‘If you need anything, let us know,’” Modlin said. “It makes you feel special.”
Modlin said she’s more worried about her regular customers, especially some who are elderly.
“Connection cards” given out to patrons will help them keep in touch through phone and e-mail.
And Modlin said she’s already made plans to visit some of them during the time College Bar-B-Que is closed.
“I’m also making a Facebook page,” she said.
Modlin plans to post pictures of the work in progress and help the staff keep in touch with customers and friends.
When College Bar-B-Que reopens, Owen said, there will be brand-new equipment in the kitchen and dining area.
But one thing that won’t change is the barbecue pit itself.
“Everybody asks me about that,” Modlin said. “The pit is going to stay.”
And even with the renovations, the building won’t look much different, inside or out, Owen said.
Still, he’s been going to great lengths to reassure regulars that the closure is temporary.
He said there are many customers who eat there just about every day of the week.
And while he hates to leave them without their food and fellowship, Owen said the time is right to make sure the business is set for the future.
“To be honest, it’s more family than food,” he said. “We are a home base for so many people.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.