SALISBURY — In 2012, John Hudson Sr. was enjoying his second year of retirement.
During his nearly 50-year career as a professional chef, Hudson worked at nearly a dozen restaurants, owned a bakery and helped prepare meals for three presidents and countless celebrities.
But retirement didn’t last long.
Longtime friend and business partner Dick Palmore lured Hudson, 65, out of retirement when Palmore asked him to consider running a restaurant in his new nightclub, Nashville Nights, in downtown Salisbury. The pair also thought about opening a convenience store on North Long Street with a counter for chicken and ribs.
Instead, Hudson ended up going into business with Palmore’s sister, Bev Ryan. Together, Hudson and Ryan launched Gritz at 121 E. Innes St. in December.
A year later, the southern-with-a-Cajun-twist restaurant is expanding with a second dining room, weekend brunch and weekday soup and salad bar, and Hudson is working as hard as ever.
“I should have stuck to my plans and gone to North Long Street and worked two days a week,” he jokes.
He’s back to working 14-hour days, seven days a week, although he will start slowing down this week. Son John Hudson Jr., who has been cooking at Gritz alongside his dad since the restaurant opened, is taking over more responsibilities in the kitchen as the restaurant expands.
Ryan and Hudson have taken over the vacant space next door — a former carpet store — and created a bright dining room with two new doorways for access to the original dining room, as well as the kitchen.
Starting this week, the new dining room will host a soup and salad bar starting at 11 a.m. A new all-you-can-eat brunch runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and will be added Sundays as well from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting Dec. 1.
The weekend brunch offers a variety of stations, including omelettes, pancakes, meat carving and crepes, as well as smoked salmon and bagels and fruit.
“John cooks all of that right in front of you,” Ryan said.
The second dining room gave the owners more flexibility.
“We saw some growth in our business and wanted to be able to do meetings and parties and receptions,” Ryan said.
Business has slowed since Gritz opened last year, when the line for a table went out the door. Hudson said some customers may have become frustrated, and he encourages them to come back and enjoy the additional seating.
He said parking has been an issue for the restaurant and reminds customers they can park in the large lot directly behind the restaurant and walk through the alley or around the corner.
Ryan said restaurants often open with a bang and then slow down, but sales at Gritz have picked up recently, boosted by the restaurant’s new beer and wine menu.
Gritz now also offers catering.
Longtime Salisbury cook Christine Tedder has joined the kitchen staff. She worked alongside her mother, who worked at Pockets restaurant for 29 years.
“Customer satisfaction and good food is number one,” Hudson said of his philosophy for Gritz.
“And hospitality,” Ryan added.
With so many new restaurants in downtown Salisbury and the new Waffle House just down the street, Hudson said they work hard to make Gritz stand out “by always having a special and something different.”
Friday’s specials were shrimp creole for $6.95 and meatloaf sandwich for $5.95.
Wednesdays feature fried chicken, and Thursdays offer chicken and dumplings. Hudson said he plans to include one entree on the soup and salad bar, which starts Tuesday.
Hudson started to cook when he was 11 years old and learned at his mother’s side until he was 18 and got his first job in a professional kitchen at the Holiday Inn in Bethesda, Md.
In 1972, he became a chef at the Sheraton in Washington, D.C., where he helped prepare meals for presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as well as Mamie Eisenhower and a number of kings and queens. He attended chef school while working at the Sheraton and eventually came to Salisbury in 1980 to work for Palmore at the Elk’s Club.
Later, Hudson worked as the chef at the Salisbury Country Club, as well as several Salisbury hotels. Palmore and Hudson owned and operated six restaurants at the Metrolina Expo in Charlotte for 10 years, and Hudson cooked at the Warrior Golf Course until 2010, when he retired.
Now, he’s making everything from scratch at Gritz, where he and Ryan have 11 full- and part-time employees.
Restaurant work is hard on the body and mind, he said.
“It’s hard physically and mentally, too,” Hudson said. “When you go home, you’re still working, planning for the next day and the next week. You wonder how you’re going to coordinate and get it all out on time.”
Hudson said he’s proud to have his son, and now his granddaughter, following in his footsteps and plans to start taking off two days a week.
“I need a rest,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.