Clyde Cooper's Barbeque moving from original Raleigh location

aweigl@newsobserver.comMarch 25, 2014 

  • Want to go?

    Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque will serve its last plates of fried chicken and barbecue at the original location, 109 E. Davie St., on Saturday. Get there as soon as possible if you want to sit at the counter or the lone remaining booth. By Saturday, the owners expect to serve mainly takeout and have limited table service.

    The owners, Randy and Debbie Holt, are moving the restaurant around the corner to 327 S. Wilmington St., and hope to open by April 9.

    Info: clydecoopersbbq.com

  • Who was Clyde Cooper?

    Clyde Cooper was the son of a Wake County dairy farmer who opened the restaurant on New Year’s Day in 1938. Then, a barbecue sandwich cost 15 cents, and a barbecue plate cost 40 cents. Today, a chopped barbecue sandwich costs $3.25, and a chopped barbecue plate costs $7.

    Cooper ran the restaurant until 1981, when he retired. In 1988, he sold the restaurant to Alvin Moore and his son, Tony. That’s when current owner Debbie Holt worked at the restaurant and got to know Cooper, who was still a regular customer. Cooper died in 1998 at the age of 98.

    Six years ago, Debbie and Randy Holt bought the restaurant. In a box upstairs, they discovered notes that Debbie Holt had taken about the original recipes based on her conversations with Cooper. The Holts tweaked the recipes to return to Cooper’s original concoctions, including the Brunswick stew and the hush puppies.

— After 76 years, this is the last week to dine at the original Davie Street location of Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque, a downtown Raleigh landmark of slow-cooked pork shoulders, crunchy pig skins and thick, tangy Brunswick stew.

If you want to sit on a stool at the steel-edged beige laminate counter or in the one remaining wooden booth, you need to get there by Friday. On Saturday, the restaurant will likely only be offering takeout. The restaurant owners have to get everything out by Monday.

“Everybody is sad to a certain degree,” said owner Debbie Holt, “but you have to get past it.”

Holt and her husband, Randy, are focusing on reopening Clyde Cooper’s Barbeque around the corner at 327 S. Wilmington St. by April 9.

When a customer asked last week about the move, Holt, known for her wide-open quips, said: “I’ll be so officially broke that somebody will have to buy me new underwear.”

The original Clyde Cooper’s building, believed to date to 1884, will be torn down to make way for the Edison, a mixed-use development that will include a 13-story office building and two apartment complexes. One of the apartment complexes, the 23-story SkyHouse Raleigh tower, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The entire Edison project, the work of developer Gregg Sandreuter, will fill most of the block bounded by Blount, Davie, Wilmington and Martin streets.

The Holts, who did not own the building, tried working with Sandreuter to figure out a way to stay in the original location, but it was not possible. With the advice of former City Manager Russell Allen and Raleigh developer Steve Stroud, Debbie Holt said they found a new location in a new storefront in a parking deck on Wilmington Street.

Even though many Cooper’s fans expect Holt to grouse about Sandreuter, she said he has been quite helpful and even promised to hang a plaque commemorating Clyde Cooper on the site of the original restaurant.

For customers who love the old building, the new restaurant will have familiar touches. More than half a dozen wooden booths have already been moved to the new space. The green awning emblazoned with “Cooper’s BBQ” that used to perch outside is hanging on a wall overlooking the new dining room. And all the photographs, pig trinkets and kitschy plaques – even the mounted hog’s head strung with Mardi Gras beads – will find a home in the new place.

Last week, Holt was checking on the Gurkin Construction crew’s progress in the new location. One of the owners, James Gurkin, suggested covering the ends of the worn, dingy wooden booths facing the front door with new wood.

Debbie Holt was having none of it: “I want people to see the old booths, for people to know they are here.”

The change is bittersweet for the staff. Waitresses and best friends, Johnsie Worsley and Fredia Pennington, who have worked at Clyde Cooper’s for 24 and 12 years respectively, watched their children grow up there. Worsley’s son and Pennington’s daughter did countless hours of homework sitting on stools at the counter. (Joshua Worsley, now 24, works at the restaurant alongside his mother.)

“They came here every day after school, and then we put them to work wiping tables,” Pennington said.

Worsley added: “It’s our second home.”

Head cook James Bolton, who has worked at Clyde Cooper’s for 32 years, is ready for the new space.

Many people may not realize that the restaurant’s two pig cookers are upstairs on the second floor. Twice a week, the restaurant gets a delivery of nine boxes of pork shoulders; each box contains four shoulders and weighs about 65 pounds. Bolton has to lug those boxes up a narrow staircase to the second floor coolers and then carries tubs of cooked barbecue back down those stairs, now sticky from years of use, 21 steps each time.

“I hate those steps,” James Bolton said. “I’ll be glad to be rid of those steps.”

Sitting at the counter Tuesday eating barbecue sandwich specials were David Nance, 54, of Cary and John Stephenson, 44, of Raleigh. Both men meet regularly for lunch at Cooper’s and plan to eat at the new location. Although Nance has one condition: “They got to take the grease with them.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @andreaweigl

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