Couple Focused on Mellow Mushroom
Mark and Parker Dunahay are delivering a piping hot slice of Americana to Moore County.
They are opening a Mellow Mushroom restaurant at 10840 U.S. 15-501 in Southern Pines, in the old Sandhills Electric Supply building. It is scheduled to open May 2.
Mark Dunahay said this week that that opening had to be delayed by a week as work remained a bit behind schedule.
“Every day I go in there and I see progress being made,” Dunahay said. “It is very gratifying to see this go from a dream two years ago to almost a reality now.”
The is the first foray into restaurant ownership for the Dunahays, who are married and have one child. Parker is also a real estate agent. Mark was in construction prior to this project.
When they decided to open a restaurant, their first choice wasn’t Mellow Mushroom. But while they were in the Detroit airport several years ago preparing to meet with representatives from that chain, they began reconsidering their options.
By the time they got to their meeting, Mark said his mind was wandering.
“I was trying to build my business plan for Mellow Mushroom in my head,” he said.
Famous for its unique atmosphere and its fare — pizza, hoagies, calzones and beer — Mellow Mushroom has built a large and loyal following across the United States. The company eschews “cookie-cutter sameness” of bigger restaurant chains for restaurants that have a similar feel, with a “unique vibe,” according to its website.
For the Dunahays, that philosophy is energizing and empowering.
“It is refreshing to have somebody live what they preach,” Parker Dunahay said.
Construction crews have been renovating the building for several months. The restaurant will employ about 140 people, the owners say.
The Dunahays have big plans for the building, saying the interior will reflect the style and personality of Moore County, while also being comfortable and familiar to anyone who has ever visited a Mellow Mushroom restaurant.
“It is such great space and a great location,” Parker Dunahay said. “We have lots of ideas to make it special.”
That said, they are being tight-lipped on the details of the grand design.
‘We don’t want to give too much away,” she said. “We want people to come in and see for themselves. We want that ‘Wow’ factor.”
She did say that the plan is to have a restaurant that will be bold and memorable, yet subtle.
“We want it to be a place that people see the first time and want to come back, and when they do come back, we want them to notice something new each time,” she said.
One of the most appealing things to the Dunahays about Mellow Mushroom was the ability to make their restaurant unique, while still having a proven brand with a loyal customer base like Mellow Mushroom.
The menu, for example, will have many of the standard fare available at other Mellow Mushrooms, but like each Mellow Mushroom, the local restaurant has several unique menu offerings.
Among those are a variety of vegan and vegetarian choices. The Dunahays are partnering with several local businesses for menu items.
The local Mellow Mushroom plans to offer desserts from the Bakehouse in Aberdeen. There will be a birthday package courtesy of Kool Kakes in Rockingham. The Railhouse Brewery in Aberdeen will have three beers on tap.
To build a buzz about the restaurant, the Dunahays, for months, have engaged the community to help build their brand through constant daily interaction with its nearly 3,500 fans on Facebook, the art contests among local high school students to help design the restaurant logos and artwork and the local job fairs and other various events and festivals they’ve taken part in.
They said Mellow Mushroom is establishing an active presence in the community.
“Community involvement is very important to us,” Mark Dunahay said. “That is what we are going to focus on, getting out into the community, meeting people, fundraising and doing other fun things like that.”
Mellow Mushroom is an Atlanta-based pizzeria. The first Mellow Mushroom was started in 1974 by three college students. Mellow Mushrooms have sprouted up all across the United States, with more than 100 restaurants in 15 states. Most of the restaurants are located in the southern part of the country, but there are franchises as far west as Denver and Arizona.
The Southern Pines Mellow Mushroom is the 13th in North Carolina.
“We hope that our restaurant will be an icon in Southern Pines,” Mark Dunahay said.
More like this story