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COMMENTARY

Country Inn's closure a loss to Spring Hope

Posted on May 3, 2021

Local newsOpinionColumns

kripley@springhopeenterprise.com

Ken Ripley

Ken Ripley

I knew, generally, it was coming. I just didn’t know when. But it still hurts to see a “for rent” sign on Spring Hope’s Country Inn, which has quietly closed for good after 73 years serving homestyle meals to hungry residents and visitors.

The obvious story is that the restaurant’s closing was an outgrowth of the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down many thousands of businesses, especially restaurants, around the country. Certainly the pandemic precipitated the decision to close.

All of Spring Hope’s restaurants closed suddenly last spring as COVID-19 took off on the first of its multiple surges that have seen 575,194 deaths in the U.S. alone as of Friday, including 12,631 in North Carolina and 181 in Nash County.

Then, slowly, as days became weeks and weeks became months, our local eating places, including BJ’s Country Inn, resumed operation to varying degrees with takeout orders. Some places, like the Showside Grill, even revamped their interiors and opened to limited in-person dining, which I have enjoyed. The takeout at least has given us the chance to order most of the local dishes we enjoy while providing some revenue to hurting businesses, not to mention preserving some jobs that might otherwise have been lost.

When the Country Inn finally resumed business, it eliminated entirely the popular breakfast menu for which it had become the town’s main provider and still offered lunch and dinner on a limited basis for only four days a week. But I and others were grateful on those few days that we could still order our favorite meals, even served in Styrofoam containers.

I had heard the rumors that B.J. Liu and his wife Tina were planning to close the restaurant and leave Spring Hope, but was hoping they would change their minds. B.J.’s family ran a good restaurant and were assets, as a business and family, to Spring Hope.

No doubt the decision was complicated and not easy for them — some private personal mix, I suppose, of finances, family needs, possibly even some pandemic-related concerns. All we can do now is heartily wish them well with gratitude for their culinary contribution to our town’s culture. I hope they know they will be missed.

Losing any businesses in Spring Hope is tough; it’s not as though we have that many. And it took a long time to build up any kind of variety of restaurants — Burger King, Subway, No. 1 Chinese, Memo’s, a new Mexican grill and a few that came and went were all gradual but welcome additions to the Showside Grill and Country Inn. Work is progressing on Bojangles. At least we do have options.

But losing Country Inn is a big blow to our local culture as well as appetites. The restaurant, under different owners, has been an institution, an emotional as well as physical landmark for longtime Spring Hope residents.

The restaurant, with its Country Boy theme, was founded in 1948, generations ago. The Country Inn was a popular stop, located on old U.S. 64, which passed right through Spring Hope as a steady flow of travelers paused to eat on their way to or from the beach.

Very shortly after I came to Spring Hope, the U.S. 64 bypass opened and moved that flow of traffic around the town. But the Country Inn stayed busy, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to hungry locals, loyal travelers who came off the bypass to eat and at least one food critic who wrote that he enjoyed the personable service by Miste as much as the country-style food.

More than just somewhere to eat, though, the Country Inn was an essential meeting place for the town. The Lions Club had its regular dinner meetings in the large back room twice a month. The United Daughters of the Confederacy ate there, as did the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Church and civic groups of all sizes would meet for meals, the Baptist men faithfully on the weekends. The Chamber of Commerce hosted banquets there. Families held reunions. Fundraisers were common.

Old-timers told me the local churches used to race to end their Sunday service first and get to the Country Inn for the best seating at lunch. Losers had to wait.

My favorite memory was when I learned about the Country Inn’s super early clientele, a heartwarming but slightly creepy display of loyalty.

I met a farmer friend for a business breakfast one morning and he asked that I come well before 6 a.m., when the place officially opened. When I showed up at dawn as requested, the door was locked and the lights were out. But I was let in and men were quietly sitting and drinking coffee at all the tables in the dark, something my friend said they did every morning.

I personally preferred leisurely and much later breakfasts, as did a whole bunch of other regulars who shared food, coffee and gossip with gusto, until the virus sent us packing.

I hope someone will somehow — and soon — revive our historic landmark and reopen for business. We need a good breakfast to start the day, a plate of ribs to end it.

More importantly, every town needs a Country Inn. It is part of Spring Hope’s heritage, embedded in our civic DNA, and an anchor to our way of life.

Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus. Email him at kripley@springhopeenterprise.com.

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