A menu for success: Restaurant neighbors feed need to help each other

ASHEBORO – A couple of Sunset Avenue eateries have bonded rather than competed.

It’s working out well.

When The Bun Hut was to open earlier this month, staffing shortages were a concern. Just down the street, Nannie Mae’s Café & Bakery owner Katherine Stroud was ready to help.

On the day of the Bun Hut’s opening, Stroud closed her business to lend a hand.

“We know how stressful it is when you’re just opening and we wanted them to be able to get going,” Stroud said. “Everything always goes slower than anticipated. He said things were ready, but we knew they needed some help.”

Kermit Raymond Mackey of The Bun Hut appreciated that.

“It was a good help for the first day because we needed that push,” Mackey said.

Days after his restaurant began serving, Mackey was spending some time in the mid-afternoon sipping coffee at Nannie Mae’s.

“Everybody lends a hand,” Mackey said. “That’s the important thing.”

Stroud got to know Mackey, who’s known as “Chef Ray,” in the weeks before The Bun Hut opened because he frequented her café as a stop for coffee. So she was aware of the staffing concerns that persisted for the soon-to-open restaurant.

“We moved here (from New Bern) because we wanted to be part of a community,” Stroud said. “They desperately needed to open.”

Stroud had been a chef at a golf course for a dozen years before relocating. She had gone through the anxiety of starting something new when her establishment opened in November.

At first, she intended to close Nannie’s Café early on March 5 to assist The Bun Hut. Eventually, she decided to not open the café at all that day. Five of her employees went to help their new neighbors, taking along coffee.

“We decided to close up and come on over,” Stroud said. “I saw their menu and everything looked amazing.”

The Bun Hut, which offers food and cocktails while specializing in Caribbean-Asian dishes, is open five days a week – closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Finding enough staff remains an ongoing challenge.

“You have a lot of people just looking for a second job, but if they have a (full-time) job they can’t be flexible,” Mackey said.

The Bun Hut is encouraging reservations to help anticipate the busy times and to guide diners on when might be best times to visit, particularly as the staffing has been uneven.

“We don’t want to have issues with service,” Mackey said.

He said Stroud has “always got a smile on” and been encouraging, so it’s more than providing the extra manpower.

“We want everyone to succeed and thrive,” Stroud said. “We want to make our part of the world a little better.”

And if diners experienced a longer-than-expected wait on an initial visit to The Bun Hut, it might be worth going for another meal.

“Please go back and try it again,” Stroud said.

By Bob Sutton