The Villager deli, restaurant headed to downtown R’ham

Keel wants to be part of ‘rebirth’ of downtown scene; deli name yet to be decided

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Work continues by Carpenter Construction on the new multipurpose building, which will house a Rockingham version of The Villager deli and restaurant by the end of the year.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Work continues by Carpenter Construction on the new multipurpose building, which will house a Rockingham version of The Villager deli and restaurant by the end of the year.

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

PINEHURST — In what might be the worst-kept secret in the history of Rockingham, The Villager deli and restaurant owner  Koley Keel confirmed Tuesday that he will be adding a second location later this year — across from Discovery Place KIDS in downtown Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Koley Keel, owner of The Villager deli and restaurant, hopes to replicate his success in Rockingham beginning in late 2014.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Koley Keel, owner of The Villager deli and restaurant, hopes to replicate his success in Rockingham beginning in late 2014.

Keel said his Moore County location, situated a half a jump away from Pinehurst No. 2 at the intersection of Cherokee and Chinquapin roads, has an existing base of loyal Richmond County customers. Around November, give or take, those same people — and their friends — won’t have to drive as far to enjoy the deli-style cuisine.

“There’s lots of people that know we’re coming,” Keel said. “They’re excited. We are going to attempt to do exactly what we do here. I hope, and I think, it will do well. We’re very excited to be asked to come down.”

Keel said city officials, specifically City Manager Monty Crump, approached him about opening a second location and taking advantage of a solid deal offered by the city.

On Wednesday, Crump acknowledged no lease has yet been signed. Though a deal isn’t finalized, “that’s not unusual,” he said as details are ironed out. That agreement must be approved by the mayor and City Council, Crump said.

Crump said the holdup is in part because the terms of the lease will be guided in large part by the cost of designing and equipping the kitchen to meet Keel’s needs. However, Crump said it’s custom for the city to attempt to recoup those costs within five to 10 years. The city will own the building, which will be one part deli and restaurant and one part lunch room for school children visiting Discovery Place KIDS.

It’s also unknown as to what the name of the new deli and restaurant will be, though Crump is advocating for something tied to the Hitchcock Creek blue trail and greenway. Another local tie-in will be the work being done by Dr. John Stevenson and Tom MacCallum of the Richmond County Historical Society. The goal is to help pitch Richmond County to visitors of the deli and children’s museum by highlighting local attractions and history in the new building.

“You’ll see everything you need to know about the community” by walking into this building, he said. “It’s an opportunity sell the community.”

Keel was recommended to him by a number of Richmond County individuals, Crump said, people who “thought it would be a good fit in the community.”

Crump said Keel visited Rockingham on several occasions and was surprised at the lack of foot traffic, which is a near constant in the retirement village of Pinehurst. Crump explained that Rockingham is a “working class town,” with a workforce that goes out to lunch at nearby locations. At the right hours, Keel was satisfied with what he saw.

Keel and staff members said Tuesday during a rainy post-lunch afternoon that they plan to replicate much of what is offered at the Pinehurst location. That could mean seating for four dozen people or more, flatscreen television sets mounted to the walls — tuned into SportsCenter — daily specials written in colorful chalk on a blackboard (Tuesday’s was BBQ sandwich with chips and slaw), marble countertops and a stainless steel kitchen.

The downtown Rockingham project, Keel said, is currently in the design phase of the kitchen. He said the Rockingham location could be a bit larger than the current facility and have more space for outdoor dining than the Pinehurst deli.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Inside the Pinehurst restaurant. Koley Keel's back is to the viewer in this image.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Inside the Pinehurst restaurant. Koley Keel’s back is to the viewer in this image.

The arrival of The Villager deli and restaurant is one part of a multipurpose building across from Discovery Place KIDS, a nonprofit museum at the corner of East Washington and South Lawrence streets. The other part of the newly constructed building will serve as a lunch room for patrons of the museum. A little more than a year old, the nonprofit children’s museum attracted well over 40,000 visitors in its first 12 months.

Keel said he’s hoping to capitalize on that traffic and he doesn’t need the likes of the U.S. Open to be successful.

“We think the business is there to support what we’re doing,” Keel said. “It’s a big deal that we branch out.”

The Villager deli and restaurant has been at its current Pinehurst location since 1982. Keel is the fourth owner, and the longest tenured. He purchased the restaurant 13 years ago.

Keel said the beginning days and weeks, including the hours of operation, will be trial and error and that he’ll let the market dictate when to be open. In Pinehurst, the deli has long been open six days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to mid-afternoon. He recently decided to open the restaurant on Sundays, too, but that doesn’t mean it will — or won’t — work in Rockingham.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

“The customer will tell us what we need to do,” he said. “The key will be the employees that we hire. We would love to hire from Rockingham. We want to hire from Richmond County.”

Keel said he tentatively plans on a staff of 10, with the majority or all of the staff members being full-time employees.

Oakboro-based Carpenter Construction was awarded the $806,831 project, funded primarily by two major grants — $475,000 from the Cole Foundation and $281,331 from the Richmond Community Foundation, with the rest from the city of Rockingham to cover administrate and design-related fees — and is on a 240-day timeline. Work is expected to be completed later this year.

Crump said he sees the addition of the new deli and restaurant as a win for downtown Rockingham — including Henry’s Uptown Cafe and Hudson Bros. Deli. Consumers like to have options, he said.

“I personally believe that everybody benefits by more businesses,” Crump said, noting the addition of the planned Zaxby’s Restaurant now under construction on Highway Business 74 and the expanded Bojangles, which opened Tuesday.

 

Filed in: Business, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News

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