Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Miss the food from the Sweetest Thing?
Fans of Josh Harrell’s menu can once again eat his sandwiches, soups and salads for lunch in downtown Salisbury.
Harrell, former co-owner of the Sweetest Thing, is the new head chef at Cooper’s, 122 E. Fisher St., which opens for lunch starting today.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” said Joseph Cataldo, who owns Cooper’s with his wife, Leslie Cataldo. “Josh is very talented, obviously, and it will bring another dimension to the food we’re able to serve.”
The Sweetest Thing closed last month, and downtown diners have missed Harrell’s unique lunch menu, Leslie Cataldo said.
Harrell said he will continue to prepare all but about six items from the Sweetest Thing menu. All sandwiches named for Salisbury personalities will return, as well as Harrell’s signature quesadillas and soups, including roasted corn chowder and cream of celery.
He will add a 4-ounce lunch hamburger on a homemade bun, half the size of Cooper’s 8-ounce dinner burger. Cooper’s will continue serving its house salad, and Harrell’s house salad will become “The Alison.”
The dinner menu at Cooper’s will remain the same for now, Harrell said. Both lunch and dinner will feature daily specials.
Harrell has worked part time for Cooper’s since the restaurant opened in September 2011, and the Cataldos plan to bump up their catering business by bringing him on full-time.
Harrell said he had 10 to 15 regular catering clients at the Sweetest Thing and plans to “try to swing them this way.”
Both the Cataldos and Harrell said serving local produce, often purchased at the Salisbury Farmers Market, is a priority.
“We use as much local produce as we possibly can,” Harrell said.
Cooper’s, along with Sweet Meadow Cafe, will prepare the feast for Sunday’s Riot in the Pasture, an event at Hoffner Organic Farms sponsored by the Bread Riot that celebrates local food and farmers. Tickets are on sale at several downtown locations.
Cooper’s will open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Dinner hours will continue those days as well.
Leslie Cataldo said customers have been asking her to serve lunch since the restaurant opened, but the family wasn’t ready to take the plunge until now.
“You only get one chance to do it right,” she said.
The Cataldos owned Uncle Louie’s, a successful Italian restaurant in Spencer, for five years until selling it in 1999. It’s now Pinnochio’s.
Lunch options in downtown Salisbury are growing in number and variety.
In addition to longtime eateries like Hap’s, Sidewalk Deli and Spanky’s, downtown now offers Thai and sushi at Bangkok Downtown and, starting Thursday, southern favorites with a spin at Ethos in the former Stelia’s location.
The lunchtime Italian buffet has returned at Cartucci’s, and Go Burrito plans to open this summer in the former Carousel Cafe location.
New dining options didn’t influence the decision to begin serving lunch at Cooper’s, Leslie Cataldo said.
“It’s all about timing,” she said. “This is the right timing for us.”
The more restaurants serving lunch downtown, the more people will eat downtown, she said.
“Joseph and I have always said, the more things going on downtown, the better it is for everyone,” she said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.