'Traditional Americana': Downtown Grill Takes Wing - and Serves 'Em
Nathan Gibbs grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., eating the type of food that he now prepares for diners at The Downtown Grill in Southern Pines.
"I'm getting back to my roots," Gibbs said. "It's just traditional Americana - good food, good quality and at a reasonable price."
The menu features appetizers, salads, wings and entrees - mainly hamburgers, hot dogs and sandwiches - and everything is priced under $12. There is also a kids' menu.
"It's just simple stuff that is made fresh in-house every day," said co-owner Patrick O'Donnell, who also owns O'Donnell's Pub next door.
For example, the french fries are hand-cut from whole potatoes and double-fried.
"That's unique and plays to our niche," O'Donnell said.
Gibbs, who previously worked at the Holly Inn, Coachlight Trattoria and Pinehurst No. 7, calls the wings "the heart of our business."
"We have big, meaty wings that we get from a local farmer. We also have some unique flavors for our sauces," he said. "The three of us have pretty much had the same concept about the food from the start."
The eat-in, take-out restaurant on East New Hampshire Avenue opened Oct. 2 in the 2,100 square feet of space formerly occupied by Swordfish Grill.
O'Donnell and business partner Paul Dreher spent four months and five figures cleaning the kitchen, installing a new emergency exit and renovating the bar, among other things, to provide a casual, comfortable atmosphere.
"We're not fine dining, and we're not McDonald's," O'Donnell said. "It's nice and open in here, which I like."
The walls are adorned with current and historical photographs of downtown Southern Pines.
"Frank Pierce did all of the artwork," O'Donnell said.
O'Donnell describes himself as the "PR guy," while Dreher is the general manager.
"He's the organized one," O'Donnell says of Dreher. "I just smile and wave."
The two are neighbors and have talked about opening a restaurant together for years.
"When we learned that this space was available, we sat down and got serious about it," Dreher said. "We asked ourselves, 'Do we want to do this?' We were crazy enough to take the plunge."
For Dreher, it meant returning to the industry for the first time since working for Nestle in the early 1980s.
"It's an opportunity to go back to where I started," he said.
The 84-seat restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight on Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
"This town needs an affordable place to eat after 4 p.m.," O'Donnell said. "Also, if we're not busy at lunch, we do deliver to downtown businesses within walking distance."
The late-night hours on the weekend cater to the local bar scene, especially O'Donnell's Pub patrons.
"My door guys have menus," O'Donnell said. "Business has been steady during the day but sporadic late at night because we've been relying on word-of-mouth. We haven't done any advertising because we're getting rid of all the hiccups first."
O'Donnell and Dreher relied on family, friends and "pub regulars" to give them feedback during four test runs with the 25 part- and full-time workers hired prior to opening.
"It was harder to get honest feedback, but everyone opened up eventually," Dreher said. "The biggest challenge is always the minuscule things that set you back."
The Downtown Grill gets its bread from Broad Street Bakery and uses the featured cheese of the month at Southern Whey on a burger appropriately named "The Southern Whey."
"We're trying to be local without being pretentious about it," Gibbs said.
The trio is also working on the development of So Pies, a new restaurant slated to go into the space on West New Hampshire Avenue previously occupied by How Ya Doin.
"We're going to have pizza by the slice, grinders and gyros," O'Donnell said.
Asked when the restaurant would open, he added with a smile, "That's the million dollar question. We're hoping before Christmas."
Contact Ted Natt at (910) 693-2474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story