Growing up on a farm in southern Wake County, Tim King grew to appreciate fresh produce.
“I’ve always been really picky about what I eat,” King said. “On the farm, we always knew where our food came from.”
King, 55, had planned to maintain his family’s sweet potato and tobacco farm, but the family sold much of the land they leased to other farmers as new development popped up. So he turned to another career that allowed him to hold on to his passion for fresh food.
After he took a restaurant class as a part of his agriculture degree from N.C. State University, King thought to himself, “This can’t be too hard. I know how to make a sandwich.”
In 1996, King opened Village Deli in Cameron Village near downtown Raleigh. On Wednesday, the eatery will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Customers can get commemorative T-shirts and other memorabilia.
With wooden beams and stone accents, the restaurant has a farmhouse atmosphere – a stark contrast to the modern boutiques and shops in Cameron Village.
King wanted to keep things simple, and the business takes pride in using locally grown and organic ingredients. King likes to say Village Deli went organic “before it was cool.”
The refrigerators are stocked with local beer, and customers can buy fair-trade coffee.
Many of the recipes, including the pimento cheese, come from King’s family cookbook.
Growing with Raleigh
After college, King bought a few sandwich franchises, but he soon realized he wanted to open a restaurant of his own.
He leased space in Cameron Village and adopted part of the name of the previous tenant, the Village Restaurant. A picture of the namesake still hangs on the wall by the door.
In 2007, King changed the name to Village Deli and Grill to reflect an expanded menu and renovations. The eatery used to only serve lunch, but it is now also open for breakfast and dinner.
As the Triangle continued to grow, so did the business. King opened a second location in Morrisville in 2002, a third in Wake Forest in 2007 and a fourth on Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh in 2013.
“It’s been nice to grow with Raleigh,” King said.
The restaurant’s clientele has evolved over the years. These days, tattooed millennials enjoy fried green tomato BLTs alongside older customers. Many loyal visitors are N.C. State students and Cameron Village shoppers. Some stop in three times a week or so.
“We survive on our regulars,” King said.
A sign on the counter to mark the anniversary reads, “20 years: Thanks to you, our customers!”
King said hardworking staff members have also made the restaurant successful. “Loyal staff and customers are the reason we’re here.”