A new owner says construction is on track to bring Carolina-style barbecue to the former Southern Rail restaurant and host live music again this spring at the popular Station bar.
Local Chef Drew Moore signed a lease for the historic property at 201 E. Main St. this month with plans to open the CrossTies Barbecue restaurant in May. The deal includes a long-term land lease from Norfolk Southern Railroad.
Moore also operates Venable Rotisserie Bistro and the B-Side Lounge at Carr Mill Mall.
The Station could reopen as a private club with low-cost membership in March, after some minor updates to the floor, bar and bathrooms. The sound system will be updated, Moore said, and they’re planning regular shows from “musicians in residence,” local bands and larger acts that could be free to the community.
Former owner Mike Benson was forced to close Southern Rail and the Tiger Room coffee shop in November, and the Station on Dec. 31, because his Southern Rail Ventures LLC owed a growing tax debt to the N.C. Department of Revenue.
The trouble started a couple of years after opening, Benson said, and was compounded by management missteps and an inconsistent menu. He first advertised the restaurant for sale in late 2014. Local businesses hired many of Benson’s former employees when Southern Rail closed, and the Cat’s Cradle hosted a two-day benefit earlier this month to help pay staff salaries and the debt.
Moore said he’s excited about the opportunity to bring good food and good service back to the historic station, but he’s also a little nervous about running four businesses at the same time.
“All the pieces fell together for us,” he said. “It was a good thing for Mike, and it got him out of kind of a tight spot, and it got us into a really cool historic building. We just feel like we’re stewards of the building.”
CrossTies will be a full-service restaurant, he said, specializing in authentic Carolina barbecue and a variety of smoked meats, including fresh-made sausages and bacon. It will include a larger, central dining room, plus dining in one of two historic train cars or on an outdoor patio.
Moore is working with Nicholas Clapp, the former pitmaster at Hillsborough BBQ Company, who will start testing recipes using hickory and sometimes apple wood once they’ve installed the smoker in the Tiger Room space.
The smokehouse and prep kitchen will have large windows, so passersby can watch the food being smoked and prepared, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of support from some people around who have been barbecuing for years, and they’re going to come and lend us a hand when we first get open,” he said.
Moore, who attended the Culinary Institute of America, has worked in restaurants from Italy to Boston, New York City and Aspen, Colo. He has been sous chef at Il Palio in Chapel Hill, chef at The Federal in Durham and manager during Tyler’s Taproom expansion into Apex and Raleigh.