Carolina Bar-B-Q is closing, and when prompted for memories of their tenure as restaurant owners in Statesville, Gene and Linda Medlin don’t hesitate to say that the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo was a defining moment for the eatery.
The restaurant hadn’t even hit its five-year mark when the storm laid waste to the area in 1989. Turned out, that humble little restaurant served as a huge boost for the crews arriving for cleanup.
“The barbecue had cooked through the night, so when we came to check on the restaurant that morning you could smell it,” Linda said. “No one had power. No one had water. Some people didn’t have food, but we did.
“That morning we weren’t planning to work, but it turned out to be one of our busiest days.”
Carolina Bar-B-Q was one of the few operating restaurants in the area. The Medlins provided food to dozens of FEMA workers, sent a truck of barbecue to Monroe to feed 250 power company linemen and opened their doors (and turned on their coffee maker) for area residents.
“That’s what you do,” Gene said. “You help people.”
That’s been their philosophy ever since.
After 32 years in Statesville and three additions to the Salisbury Road building known for its home cooking and whistling train that speeds overhead in the dining areas, the Medlins will close their doors and turn off the grill for good.
Carolina Bar-B-Q will serve its last plate -- likely with a side of those famous hush puppies -- on July 31.
'A TIME FOR EVERYTHING'
“We never planned to work this long, but this became our home – our family.” Linda said, pointing to a print out of the Bible verse Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, “A Time for Everything.”
“I never thought we’d have to tell everyone we’re pulling the plug,” she said. “I wish we could do something, but it’s time.”
On Wednesday, she planned to share the scripture during that night’s employee meeting, partly to explain their decision and partly to offer solace to their workers -- many have been at the restaurant for at least 20 years.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” she quoted from the verse. “… A time to plant and a time to uproot.”
THE PEOPLE MAKE THE TOWN
During their three decades, Gene and Linda have had a front-row seat to the evolution of Statesville.
“We’ve seen a lot of change,” Linda said. “But a lot of things haven’t changed. The people are still the best thing this town has to offer. They’re great. You don’t realize how good they are until things get bad.”
About a year ago, Linda developed sepsis after surgery and nearly died from the infection. Though her situation was bad, it revealed the good in the people she knew.
“We love these people, and we’re blessed to know them,” Gene said. “Last year was a wakeup call. Life is so fragile. If we ever want to vacation and relax together, now is the time to do it.”
Gene and Linda had plans to retire at 55, but at 74 and 72 respectively, they say it’s better late than never.
“Our bucket list has grown quite a bit,” Gene said. “We want to travel. We have a little house on the coast. I’ll go fishing, and Linda will get to read on the beach.”
A DESTINATION RESTAURANT
While the Medlins may be heading east, Carolina Bar- B-Q has been a destination unto itself for many customers.
“The biggest compliment we will ever get is that someone will plan their trip from up north in a way to stop specifically to eat at our restaurant, and that happens about once a week, especially since we’re off the interstates,” Gene said.
Along with the out-of-towners, Carolina Bar-B-Q has been a draw for celebrities.
Actor James Franco once met with his drama coach over a plate of barbecue. Former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty stopped by last month.
Signed photos of a variety of celebrities, from Mötley Crüe to Pam Tillis, decorate the door frame.
Regardless of who their customers are, Gene and Linda served them with respect and pride, they said. And they hold out hope that someone will buy the restaurant and continue the tradition.
While they don’t own the building, they hope to sell the business and equipment as a turnkey operation.
Regardless of what the future holds, the Medlins say running Carolina Bar-B-Q has been one of their greatest privileges.