By ANGELA H. HILL
On April 1, Franklin Restaurant lowered the shades on a 60-year run at its former location at 20221 Virgil H. Goode Highway. By the eighth week of closure, staff members were pinching pennies to keep from moving on to another job – holding out hope that Franklin could re-open at a new location.
The restaurant’s managers and owner Kay Purdue checked out a few Rocky Mount venues but found the rent prices higher than they felt they could afford. They stored their equipment between their various homes and a nearby storage facility. They remained hopeful, but worry began to set in.
Just as many were near the ends of their financial ropes, Franklin Restaurant re-opened June 1 at the former Sea Captain, just a couple miles south on U.S. 220. Franklin’s managers were able to keep all but two of their original staff, plus hire many of Sea Captain’s former crew.
“It all worked out in the nick of time,” said manager Mike Furber. “We were all pretty much at the point where we couldn’t wait anymore. But now we have a bigger place and needed a lot more staff. The staff here needed a job too. It worked out amazingly.
“I truly believe that God had his hand in it because there’s no way it would have worked out the way it did,” Furber continued.
Franklin Restaurant closed operations at its former location after its building was sold in February. Franklin’s owners were given the option to sell the business itself, but decided to retain ownership and find another location. They vacated their former location April 1.
Franklin Restaurant’s former location will soon re-open as Hometown Diner, which plans to open the week of June 17 to offer home cooking with a health-conscious flair. Hometown plans to serve everything from burgers to locally sourced vegetables, seven days a week.
The new Franklin Restaurant is offering its full former menu, plus a few seafood favorites from the Sea Captain such as fish, scallops and crab legs. They’re currently closed Tuesday due to the first week’s high business volume and a need to catch up, Furber said.
“We’re doing double to triple what we did at the former location,” he continued. “All day, every day, we’ve been busy every hour since the very first day we opened. That day we did record sales and on the second day, we beat that record.”
Customers have told him they’re enjoying the new location’s spacious dining room. Furber said the staff is also enjoying the larger kitchen. Franklin is hiring additional staff, and hopes to go back to opening seven days a week.
“Everything about it is bigger and better,” he added.
In the meantime, down U.S. 220, crews are busy refurbishing Franklin’s former digs with new paint and flooring, and looking to expand the salad bar area to include a hot-food bar. They plan to offer homemade desserts, pulled pork and chicken barbecue, and a wide selection of waffles and pancakes. Hometown Diner is planning a grand-opening celebration on a date to be announced.
The new Franklin also plans to bring back its salad bar. Furber said about 80% of their current customers were former customers at the old location.
One boy came by to ask about the pet fish at the former aquarium, said fellow manager Sandra McCoy. Plus, she added that a former waitress postponed her college graduation party to June 1 so that she could still celebrate at Franklin Restaurant.
“This is more than a job to me,” McCoy said. “They’re like a family. We would do things like if a customer is sick and needs a meal, we will take them one.”
McCoy and Furber said they are thankful everything worked out, and they attribute their success in re-opening to staff teamwork and customer loyalty.
“You let our people know they are the reason, and they truly are because our community is behind us 100%,” McCoy said. “We always loved our people, but before this, we didn’t know how much they loved us back.”
Franklin Restaurant is now located at 17890 Virgil H. Goode Highway.