Rowan County food scene gained new favorites, lost longtime staples in 2021

Published 5:53 pm Wednesday, December 29, 2021

SALISBURY — The previous two years have been difficult for the restaurant industry.

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 forced many eateries to close or alter their business practices.

“All of the restaurant businesses in particular really had to scramble quickly,” said Elaine Spalding, president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce. “Many had to close their doors with very little notice from our friends in government. They had to adapt to totally to-go orders and provide their employees with as many resources as they could to hopefully retain them.”

Rowan County bid farewell to several staple restaurants in 2020, including Wink’s Barbecue on Faith Road and Copacabana Brazilian Cuisine on Jake Alexander Boulevard. Stag & Doe, a beloved China Grove restaurant, closed its doors in March 2020 and remained closed throughout 2021. The restaurant posted on Facebook in August that it plans to reopen, but no other details about the reopening were mentioned.

Another loss in 2020 was the closing of K&W Cafeteria at West End Plaza. The buffet chain shuttered several locations after declaring bankruptcy. The building, which is owned by Rowan County, was rented to Perkins Management Services, and the company had plans to open Perkins Cafeteria, a similar concept to K&W. But the restaurant has still not opened after a boiler room break-in in August caused damage and required repairs. 

Conditions didn’t get easy for restaurants that endured the pandemic in 2021. Along with supply chain delays and shortages of both food and labor, restaurants sifted through changing rules and regulations filtering down from the state and federal governments.

“The biggest challenge, honestly, was trying to understand all of the different government regulations,” Spalding said. “There were so many pieces of communication from both the federal and state governments. We as a chamber were spending hours on webinars learning about what all these things mean and trying to condense that down and target it to businesses needing to be aware of the changes.”

Throughout the pandemic, many restaurants have been buoyed by local support as well.

“In talking to chamber reps across the state, I’ve been pleasantly surprised we haven’t had more businesses close and particularly restaurant business,” Spalding said. “This community really supported the locally owned restaurants during COVID and that made a world of difference.”

During a year in which the pandemic continued to take its toll, here are a few Rowan County restaurants that closed or moved in 2021:

Troyer’s Country Market

The news that Troyer’s Country Market was closing was met with an outpouring of grief online. Commenters wished the owners good luck in their future endeavors, but they complained about the impending void the store’s closing would leave.

A deli/market hybrid, Troyer’s offered breakfast and lunch sandwiches and carried a wide selection of pantry staples and fridge staples such as cheese, milk, butter, soup mixes, old fashioned candy, flour and more. Troyer’s sold hand-scooped ice cream and served warm donuts on Friday mornings. 

On the last day that donuts and sandwiches were served in August, a line stretched outside of the establishment’s doors as customers clamored for a final bite.

The owners of the shop, JR and Rebekah Troyer, have both left the food industry. JR now works in construction, specializing in horse barns, pole barns, garages, carports and metal roofs. Rebekah launched her own cleaning business, called A Gal & A Pail.

Hoff’s Grill

The eatery known for its pork chop sandwich closed the doors to its West Innes Street restaurant for good at the end of September, but fans of its cooking will still be able to find their favorites soon.

Owners David Houchins and wife Jolene plan on opening a Hoff’s trailer in 2022 to bring their food to festivals and events around Rowan County. The pork chop sandwich will continue to be a menu staple. Houchins said Hoff’s will also continue to run its stand at the Rowan County Fairgrounds and will return to offer food at Faith Fourth and the Autumn Jubilee next year.

The Smoke Pit — Downtown to Faith Road

After four years at its East Innes Street location near the heart of town, The Smoke Pit’s owners announced in March that the beloved barbecue restaurant would be moving.

The Smoke Pit moved into the former home of Wink’s Barbecue, 509 Faith Road, giving the building new life and an extensive makeover. The Faith Road location opened in August, inviting diners to enjoy the same barbecue as before but in a remodeled space.

The restaurant’s co-owners, Devin Barbee, Joey Graham and Jeremy Beaver, believe the new location’s larger kitchen and additional smokers will allow The Smoke Pit to meet the demand for its catering services.

These restaurants are among new openings in 2021:

Texas Roadhouse

Rowan Countians no longer have to venture to Concord to get a taste of Texas Roadhouse’s steaks or popular buttered rolls. The Lone Star state-themed chain opened a location at the Rowan Summit Shopping Center off of Julian Road in early December. David Simon is managing partner of the new restaurant, which is just under 8,000 square feet and can seat about 300 guests.

Umami Downtown

Boasting an eclectic menu with Asian-fusion dishes, Umami Downtown opened at 127 N. Main St. in October. Umami reinvigorated the building that was once home to Main Street Legal Cafe, but it was shuttered for several years.

The restaurant is a family effort led by friends Jasmine Mohamed and Shawna Broughton, who have put together a menu featuring sushi, poke and pho. Umami also brews Boba tea and serves specialty coffee.

Vibez

With the help of her mother Tonya Rankin and chef Terry Wood, former Salisbury High basketball star Shi-heria Shipp opened Vibez in downtown Salisbury. The establishment serves food during the day but becomes a place for nightlife on Weekend evenings. Vibez opened in a renovated building at 127 S. Main St., where Palermo’s Italian Cuisine was once located.

Shug’s at Brooklyn South Square

Food, drinks, music and art are always on the menu at Shug’s Brooklyn South Square. The restaurant, bar and venue opened in August in a renovated Victorian cottage at 209 S. Lee St. Co-owner Tiffany Day brings in live music whenever she can and Shug’s maintains a diverse menu of entrees, appetizers and sides to go alongside a bar stocked with craft beer and spirits for cocktails. 

This is not an exhaustive list. Email ben.stansell@salisburypost.com if we’ve missed any notable restaurants.