Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — Shari Mann’s Centerview Cafe is a timeless fixture on a street that’s seen a lot of changes.
You can see it in the pictures from the 1930’s: a little white building with an awning out front, and a neon sign in the window promoting Pet Creamery’s frozen treats.
And it’s there in the pages of the 1963 “Hill’s Kannapolis” city directory:
“FRIENDLY RESTAURANT … We Specialize In home Cooked Food, Barbecue Chicken, Western Steaks, Seafood … 231 Front, Tel. Webster 3-3059”
Today, the name is different, but the building looks much the same outside.
There’s still a neon sign in the window, but it tells you the restaurant’s name.
And inside, though the booths and tables and walls are fresh and new, the food is still classic: breakfasts in the mornings; hot dogs, burgers and plate lunches in the afternoons.
Shari Mann is no stranger to the little restaurant in Centerview. “I ran it for a few years starting in 2004,” she said.
Back then, it was Mann’s Country Cafe.
Last fall, when the building’s owners, George and Peggy Wiles, heard she was interested in reopening, they offered to fix up the interior.
Come spring, Mann said, they hope to spruce up the exterior. Eventually, she said, they stay full a lot of the time.
Adding a larger dining room “would be nice,” down the line, Mann said.
Since reopening in December, Centerview Cafe has built a steady business. Tuesday morning, there were 10 cars in the parking lot at 8:30 a.m.
The menu is basic Southern cuisine. Specials include 99-cent hot dogs on Tuesdays and $1.99 “hand patted” hamburgers on Fridays.
“Our country style steak is the best around,” Shari Mann said. It’s her personal favorite dish — “that, or the chicken ‘n’ dumplings.”
Breakfast specials on weekdays start at $2.99.
The women of the self-proclaimed “breakfast club” that meets there on Tuesdays said both the quality of the food and the price keep them coming back.
Janice Adcock, one of the group of regulars, said they started coming on Tuesdays as part of a rotation through the town’s various restaurants.
“It’s the fellowship, the friends,” Adcock said.
As the waitress brought plates with toast, bacon, eggs, rice and gravy and more, they talked about a whole host of things.
One of the group, Cleo Overcash — she’s proud to say she’ll be 93 in July, and still drives herself to breakfast — said they come just to have fun.
Mann and her daughter, Ashley Tucker, said working there is fun.
Tucker, who worked at the former Mann’s Country Cafe as a teenager, is back after several years working in an accountant’s office.
She said she enjoys being back, especially because she’s getting to catch up with her former customers.
“They come in, they wonder if I got married, if I’ve got kids now,” she said.
“They used to tell me about their kids, and now they tell me about their grandkids. It’s kind of like sitting down and catching up,” Tucker said.
Also interesting, she said, is getting to hear about the history of their restaurant building.
Decades ago, the cafe was a teen hangout, Mann said, when people would walk or drive in to get sodas and hot dogs.
In fact, Tucker said, she’s learned a lot about the community.
Instead of one big Kannapolis, she said, “Midway was like a town, Centerview was like a town, and so was north Kannapolis. It was like three little small towns.”
There was a taxi service, a neighborhood grocery, a service station and more, all within walking distance.
“People have been bringing us pictures of things. There’s a lot of history here,” Tucker said.
Others, Mann said, will walk up to the counter and look back into the kitchen, remembering how they used to help a relative cook there, or how they once washed dishes at that very sink.
“There’s a lot of memories,” Mann said.
On shelves around the restaurant are photos not only of Centerview, but of downtown Kannapolis proper in the boom days of Cannon Mills.
But there’s living history on the cafe’s menu, too.
Mann said she’s still serving the chocolate, peanut butter and coconut pies made from Wiles family recipes from years ago.
Sherri Argabright, youngest of Peggy and George’s four children, said she was happy to know that Mann is helping keep her family’s traditions alive.
Argabright said the building, which has been in the family since the 1940’s, has been run by different family members through the years.
“My parents ran it in the ‘70s,” she said.
“I was thrilled to death when I heard Shari had the recipes and would be serving them in the restaurant,” Argabright said.
“With my parents aging, and just having memories of them running it and me being there, it’s neat to see that the place is continuing,” Argabright said.
Especially, she said, the meatloaf and country-style steak, “the kind of cooking that my mom used to do there.”
When Loop Road, now Dale Earnhardt Boulevard, was built a short distance away, much of the through traffic died out, Mann said.
And, as it did, many of the neighborhood businesses died as well.
But that might be changing in the future, Tucker said. There’s talk of a park, road improvements and more businesses moving into Centerview.
“That would be nice,” Tucker said.
For now, Mann said, she and her daughter aren’t stopping.
They’re not only attracting their former customers from the neighborhood, Mann said, “but the younger crowd is starting to come in.”
She said they’re glad to be able to be a center of business in this historic community.
“It feels pretty good, bringing back what used to be. The world’s changed so much now, it’s nice to be able to bring something back to what used to be,” Mann said.
• • •

Centerview Cafe, at 231 Front St., is open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and Sunday; 7-11 a.m., Saturday.
Starting March 1, hours wil be 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday; and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, call the restaurant at 704-932-2800.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.