‘Closing was not an option.’ Historic Clyde Cooper’s restaurant will reopen next week.

Torri Donley

One of the oldest barbecue restaurants in North Carolina is set to reopen next week for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Load Error Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque will open its doors on Wilmington Street in Raleigh for indoor service on Oct. 14 at 11 a.m., the owners […]

One of the oldest barbecue restaurants in North Carolina is set to reopen next week for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque will open its doors on Wilmington Street in Raleigh for indoor service on Oct. 14 at 11 a.m., the owners announced this week. It will be the first barbecue served by the restaurant since March, when restrictions were put in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re excited to open back up and see the people who make Cooper’s what it is today,” said co-owner Ashley Holt, who owns the restaurant with her parents, Debbie and Randy Holt.

Clyde Cooper’s dates back to 1938 and is known throughout the state for its pork barbecue, fried chicken and cracklings, which people can buy by the bag.

Holt said the restaurant will reopen with a full menu, but try to ease into its hours, opening for lunch Wednesday, Oct. 14, through Friday, Oct. 16, then reopening the following Monday.

The restaurant won’t have outdoor seating, but Holt said at least half of Cooper’s seats will be roped off to keep tables socially distant.

“We’ve got such a great staff, we want to come back and be stronger than ever before,” Holt said about the long layoff. “We’ve gotten to a point where we’re ready to see if we can make it after everything that’s happened.”

Takeout experiment didn’t work

At the beginning of the pandemic, Holt said that Cooper’s tried a couple weeks of takeout. But with many of downtown Raleigh’s offices closed and workers working from home, there was little foot traffic to speak of.

“It just wasn’t feasible with the lack of people downtown,” said Holt, adding that the restaurant made as little as $100 a day. “At that point, you’re paying people out of your pocket to operate the restaurant. … We thought it was best to just wait it out.”

Currently Cooper’s has plywood over its Wilmington Street windows. That has been up since June, when Raleigh protests over the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody escalated into riots. Holt said she and several employees of Cooper’s sat by the restaurant while multiple businesses were vandalized and damaged that night.

“If we hadn’t stayed out there until the sun came up I’m certain the windows would have been smashed in,” Holt said. “It was definitely devastating. … Businesses have no protection.”

In the months since, the Holt family considered moving the restaurant, Ashley Holt said, criticizing Raleigh’s elected officials for their handling of summer protests downtown. In June, Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin expressed regret for not imposing a curfew on May 30, the first night of protests. Last month, a report on Raleigh’s response to the protests said the police department was wrong to use tear gas on protesters.

“We contemplated going outside of downtown, but we love our spot and would love to stay in it,” Holt said. “We never thought it would be an option to move. Cooper’s started in downtown Raleigh, and we want it to stay in downtown Raleigh.”

Closing was not an option

The coronavirus pandemic has led many restaurants and businesses to close, as efforts to slow the spread of cases has meant restrictions on dining room capacity and operations. Holt said Cooper’s received Paycheck Protection Program funds to help cover the drop in revenue.

“There’s no way we’d be in the place we’re at right now without it,” Holt said.

Closing, though, was never considered, she said.

“We never thought about closing,” Holt said. “We would figure out a way to keep it open. Closing was not an option.”

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©2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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