photograph by Sara Brennan

new business opened at 156 South Fayetteville Street in downtown Asheboro — a gourmet popcorn shop called Asheboro Popcorn Co. — and the owners have the place looking so good. They’ve put up a red-and-white-striped — cherry red, Christmas red — awning  and painted the front door to match. They’ve propped red-and-white- striped pillows in the front window and built the tables and counter by hand from local white oak.

Inside, on the wall, they’ve framed an old paper menu, yellowed with age and stained with grease spatters and, well … give me just a minute on that.

Years before this space became a popcorn shop, it housed the Recreation Soda Shop. My dad worked there in the 1950s, when he was in high school, pulling Cokes and dipping ice cream. He went off to college, the soda shop changed hands a time or two, and then, in 1979, my dad bought the equipment in the old restaurant — the milkshake machine and ice cream freezer, the flattop grill, the bun steamer, all of it — and opened his own sandwich shop in the same spot called Phil’s, his first name.

He worked so hard to make the place special. He built the seating by hand, booths from local white pine. He painted the front door and hung wallpaper, an herb pattern, and boxed up utensils from our kitchen at home — spatulas, spoons, and forks — and carted them to the restaurant. He used my mom’s stockpots for his vegetable soup. He chopped pounds of chicken for chicken salad and grated piles of Cheddar for his pimento cheese.

And he wrote a four-page menu, typing every word on my beloved red — cherry red, Christmas red — Smith-Corona manual typewriter. I sat beside him at the kitchen table, helping him hunt for the letters as he pecked out descriptions for his country ham sandwich (“from Watauga County and not too salty”) and his famous footlong hot dog (“Bryan’s best all-meat wiener”). His restaurant drew a crowd — lawyers and bankers and downtown shoppers came in every day — and for years, my dad helped feed a town.   

It’s been 40 years since Phil’s closed. Two months ago, I got a note from the new tenants, the popcorn shop folks, a husband-and-wife named Greg and Sara Holden. In the process of redesigning the space, Sara told me, they’d uncovered something wedged behind an old cabinet that she thought I’d want to know about.

I drove to Asheboro to visit the shop — first time I’ve been in the space in 40 years. Sara and Greg have renovated it beautifully. I saw the cheerful red awning, the red door, and then, there, framed on the wall, well … give me just a minute on this.

There it was, that old menu typed so carefully by my dad, now hung in a place of honor by people who never knew his restaurant, but who felt a kinship for what came before, for the memories housed in this space. My face wet with tears, I read every word again. My dad would’ve been so happy to see it all, to know that something he created had endured, preserved in a space filled with stories and history, infused with so much cheer and joy. What a wonderful gift.

Merry Christmas to us all.
 

                            

Elizabeth Hudson                         
Editor in Chief                          

 

This story was published on

Hudson is a native of North Carolina who grew up in the small community of Farmer, near Asheboro. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and began her publishing career in 1997 at Our State magazine. She held various editorial titles for 10 years before becoming Editor in Chief of the 80-year-old publication in 2009. For her work with the magazine, Hudson is also the 2014 recipient of the Ethel Fortner Writer and Community Award, an award that celebrates contributions to the literary arts of North Carolina.

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