Just after the New Year, McCall’s Bar-B-Q and Seafood closed abruptly and unexpectedly after 14 years in Clayton.
Some employees showed up one morning to set up for a lunch service that never happened. The buffet-craving public scratched their collective heads at the loss of a popular Johnston County restaurant. Employees complained about being left in the lurch, and the owners explained that they wanted to focus on their Goldsboro location.
Next month, a new Southern buffet will breathe new life into the restaurant space. Clayton resident Christian Gladney plans to open Bernie’s Southern Gourmet Buffet by mid-March, keeping much of the high-volume McCall’s concept in place. Fried foods and barbecue will remain, but Gladney, a culinary school graduate, said he’ll add dishes like balsamic glazed salmon and smothererd turkey wings.
“I was surprised when McCall’s closed,” Gladney said. “It was rare when you didn’t see cars in their parking lot.”
The McCall’s closing resonated with the Clayton community, many expressing shock and sympathy for the employees suddenly finding themselves out of work. Owners said they didn’t give advance notice to employees for fear of liability issues or that a disgruntled employee might react drastically.
Gladney said keeping the restaurant buffet-style is the only way to manage the 375-seat space, but he hopes to offer a limited made-to-order menu soon after opening.
“I’m not going to change it up too much,” he said. “It was there for a long time, and for a reason. But I’ll bring a gourmet twist, doing higher-quality ingredients, more made-from-scratch, fresh dishes.”
Gladney said he’s currently working on a light interior refresh, a coat of paint and new seating before opening Bernie’s March 17 for a friends and family event. A grand opening for the public is expected a week later.
Gladney said the owners of McCall’s gave him a list of their employees and that he has hired several to open for Bernie’s. But where McCall’s had 100 workers, Bernie’s will only have around 40.
Bernie’s fulfills a dream for Gladney, 26, who tried to sell real estate and took an insurance job right out of culinary school, hoping to save money to open a restaurant. One day, everyone in his office chipped in $5, and Gladney prepared a spread for lunch.
“They all knew that what I really wanted to do was cook,” Gladney said. “Somebody had the idea of everyone pitching in for me to make an entire lunch. Everyone was so excited about the food, and I decided I’m going to just start cooking for people.”
Gladney has been catering for the past four years and recently bought a food truck, which he plans to use for future events once Bernie’s is up and running.
Bernie’s is named after Gladney’s father-in-law, who he said has been his biggest supporter, mentor and first suggested taking over the McCall’s building.
“It’s just a way to pay homage to my father-in-law,” Gladney said. “He pushed me and pushed me and pushed me and has helped me in everything I’ve done.”
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson
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