Secret to success of College BBQ through the pandemic? Take-out and community support

Salisbury restaurant survives a year into the pandemic

SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - For owners of local businesses, particularly restaurants, it’s been a very trying year. A trade publication estimated that more than 110,000 restaurants in the US closed permanently due to the pandemic. One year later, how did the survivors manage to hang on?

The owner of Salisbury’s iconic College BBQ says when the pandemic began, there was a lot of trepidation.

“Scared to death,” said James Owen. “That sums it up. Scared to Death.”

James Owen knew it was going to be difficult. He had to close the dining room in a restaurant that’s been a local favorite for 56 years. He wanted to keep going and wanted to keep his staff working. Like many others, he started to encourage customers to use the drive-thru or curbside for take out orders.

“Prior to COVID we did abut 31-32% of our business was to-go orders, and now we are at about 54-55,” Owen said. “My to-go business that we’re doing is tremendous, tremendous.”

Nearly a year later and with restrictions eased, College BBQ is busy, but if you look closely you can see that things are not quite the same.

“We put partitions up to separate booths and we eliminated some tables,” Owen said.

But James says it was the support the restaurant received from the community that made the biggest difference, and he said he never would have expected so much of an outpouring.

“The only way I can sum it up is that I was blessed, very blessed. I was fortunate enough that I had a facility that could adapt with the times, the changing times. And the times have changed.”

“Most humbling thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” Owen added. “The support from the community was absolutely tremendous and you know, you never know where your help is going to come from…the number of people who showed up like they were my best friend, I’ve never seen before. It was amazing, amazing.”

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