DineOut: Reopened Village Grill dream for new owners

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 4, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — In a sour economy, in a downtown with too many empty storefronts, Michael and Teisha Earl decided to make a leap of faith.
About six months ago, they decided to open the restaurant they had spent the past two years planning for.
And, in doing so, they brought new life to a Kannapolis landmark.
Mike’s Village Grill, at 141 West Ave., has been open for business for a little over six weeks.
The 30-seat restaurant, which specializes in barbecue and burgers, already has loyal customers.
Part of that success comes from experience.
Mike, who runs the kitchen, is the grandson of Jack Hare, who ran Glenn’s Bar-B-Que on Central Avenue for nearly three decades.
At first, Mike said, they hoped to locate at that site, but it proved unfeasible to reopen the old location.
Aside from the fact that many repairs were needed, there was the matter of the old-fashioned indoor barbecue pit.
The open flame inside the building would have made it too expensive to get insurance, Teisha said.
While they were deliberating, she said, family friend and restaurant owner Mike Mahaley of Landis gave them some advice.
Mahaley had operated Village Grill for years. When he decided to close its doors, Teisha said, “(Mahaley) told us about this place.”
The reborn Village Grill looks just about the same, though the Earls have made a few changes.
New nostalgic metal product signs on the walls join the neon in the windows, while a flat-screen T.V. is there for entertainment.
The Earls’ planning process included buying, and storing, decorations and equipment during the last couple of years.
They estimated their startup costs at about $35,000 — much lower than many other restaurants of comparable size.
What’s more, because they planned ahead and found a good location, there’s no debt.
“Everything is paid for,” Mike Earl said. “God forbid, if we had to close the doors, we don’t owe anything.”
Mike’s Village Grill — because of the name, Mike Earl said, some think Mahaley is still the owner — serves all of the staples of southern barbecue joints.
The menu includes seafood, Philly steak sandwiches and burgers for every size appetite.
One of their features, the Wonder Cheeseburger — named for the A.L. Brown High School team — is a half-pound beef patty with bacon, American cheese and choice of toppings.
There are other sandwiches named for mascots at other nearby high schools.
The Earls have also brought ice cream back to downtown Kannapolis, with Hershey’s Ice Cream products on sale.
The response has been strong. Saturday morning, a half-hour before Village Grill opened, customers were already calling, and one man came in the unlocked door.
The Earls welcomed him, asked him to come back at 11 a.m. and gave him a cup of coffee.
Saturday at lunchtime, the dining area was packed.
David and Tera Harmon, of Charlotte, stopped in with their son, 3-year-old Owen.
David said he had been through Kannapolis before on business, and wanted to stop there for lunch on their way to the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro.
He said they found a review of Mike’s Village Grill on Yelp, a website where users can post restaurant reviews.
“It was even better than we expected,” David said.
Across the room, Teisha pointed out an older couple she recognized as former customers of Glenn’s Bar-B-Que.
For those longtime customers, Mike Earl said, “the main thing they’ll remember there is the family atmosphere.”
That, he said, “and my grandfather’s grits.”
Because, starting Aug. 6, Mike’s Village Grill will be open for breakfast.
As for barbecue, the Earls are trying to keep close to tradition.
“I’m doing barbecue as close to my grandfather’s as I can, using modern methods,” Mike Earl said.
For the Earls, this restaurant is the fulfillment of what Teisha called “a hope in progress.”
“We knew a while back that this is what he wanted to do,” she said.
They also believe that this is the right time to open a business, if it’s done right.
Although many of the downtown storefronts that were converted into the Cannon Village outlet mall in the 1980’s are empty, Mike and Teisha say they’re confident Kannapolis is ready for rebirth.
“I felt like this was the perfect time to grow here, and rebuild with them,” Mike Earl said.
The two started attending meetings of Downtown Kannapolis, Inc., an advocacy group of business owners and concerned citizens formed to work with the City of Kannapolis.
The energy they saw there, she said, left them hopeful.
“It’s about the people in Kannapolis. We’d like to be a part of that,” Teisha said.
Looking to the future, once the business grows to the point they can hire additional staff, the Earls say they hope to branch into catering.
There’s also a chance they might be able to expand into vacant space beside their current location, perhaps doubling their seating capacity.
Most of all, they hope their business creates a legacy.
“Twenty years from now, I’d like to hear kids saying their folks took them to Village Grill, and then continue that with their families,” Teisha said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.