Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-BQ, a Havelock staple for over 30 years, will close for good on September 30.
The franchise will not be allowed to renew its license, according to Zebulon resident David Harris, owner of the franchise, who owns 11 Smithfield stores and has been with the company since 1992.
He said neither money nor COVID-19 was the reason for the shutdown. He said it came from disagreements with senior management. He said the Havelock location was very profitable and it was a depressing shock to learn that the license would not be renewed.
“It’s really the head office that is shutting us down. We have always been in this community. We try to help the community and we do everything we can. The business is profitable, it’s politics, really, ”said John Petrelli, Managing Director.
Lew Starling, president of Mid Atlantic Restaurant Group, the company that owns Smithfield’s, said he was not aware of any political reasons for the restaurant’s closure. Starling said a new Smithfield is going to be built in Newport across from Wal-Mart.
“We always hate to close a store, but with traffic patterns and stuff, sometimes we have to,” Starling said.
A legal letter sent to Harris by the company details a long list of issues with the restaurant and a history of non-compliance as a reason for not renewing the lease.
“It’s heartbreaking. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do in business. How do you tell a customer that you are going to close a restaurant whose last two months have had the best year in its 35-year history? There is nothing reasonable about telling your employees and customers about why you are closing the doors, ”said Harris.
The restaurant had autographed photos of the Blue Angels, who cited Smithfield’s as a favorite dining spot when they were in town for briefings or air shows.
The New Bern and Morehead City stores are considered corporate stores and not franchises. There are also no plans to close. Smithfield’s has also done catering for air shows in years past.
The announcement also came as a shock to employees, and they will have the option of moving to other stores. Harris says he will likely sell the business, but not open another business there.
“I don’t want to open a David’s Barbecue or anything like that,” he said.
He said the cost to open a turnkey Smithfield franchise is around $ 4 million.
“They have our deepest gratitude. Havelock customers have been loyal, wonderful; they made us a better restaurant by supporting us. It’s just a great relationship with the community. They have been involved in the football team, the chamber of commerce, the air show, the Marine Corps base. It has been a labor of love for me and the staff there, ”said Harris.
“It’s sad to see long-standing establishments shutting down. I do not go there very often. But whenever we want barbecue or fried chicken it’s my choice, ”said Emily Salter, a Newport resident.