In an area once known for textile mills and racing, two Richmond County businesses have recently garnered attention for how they please the palette.
Pattan’s Downtown Grille in Rockingham was recently featured in the Raleigh News & Observer’s food section.
In the article, the writer mentions how owner Tim Pattan bridges the deep divide between the Eastern North Carolina vinegar-based barbecue and the tomato base of the Lexington style — and even throws in a hint of South Carolina’s mustard-based barbecue.
“It’s pretty weird,” Pattan said of the exposure in the state’s largest newspaper. “It’s cool, I’m glad we got it. I was telling my wife we won’t see an immediate change, but I think we’ll start seeing a few more people just travelling in, coming to try us out.
“Everybody’s always looking for a different barbecue place,” he continued. “I think folks will come, within an hour’s drive, just to see what we’re all about.”
Up the road in Ellerbe, one local produce stand is no stranger to statewide — and even national — exposure.
The Berry Patch was featured in the May edition of Our State Magazine and was included in a story on WRAL-TV last fall.
“People are talking about it,” said Lee Berry, who owns the market along with his wife, Amy. “I don’t know if they’re making day trips or they’re customers who are heading to the beach, anyhow, but they’re mentioning it to us.”
In August of 2014, The Berry Patch also got a mention on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” by host Jon Stewart in a bit settling the claim of “The World’s Largest Strawberry.”
“We had a lot of people tell us that weekend they heard us, out-of-towners travelling up and down the road, they actually saw us on that clip,” he said. “I was in bed, but I woke up the next morning to a lot of messages on my phone.”
In addition to their businesses being tourist destinations, Pattan said he sees tourism, in general, picking up in Richmond County.
“With Hitchcock (Creek), the greenway and all of that that they’ve done over the years…Discovery Place Kids, I think that we’re definitely more of tourist destination than what we were 8 to 10 years ago,” he said.
Pattan added that he hopes that the photos by Jimmy McDonald hanging up on his restaurant’s walls will help with eco-tourism.
“It’s pretty neat, you can really tell the people are from out of town, after they pay they’ll walk around and look at all the pictures,” he said.
There was recently a Russian lady who drove up from Cheraw, South Carolina for the day and ate at Pattan’s establishment.
“She was looking at the pictures of Hitchcock Creek and, in her broken English, asked me how to get there,” he said. “So on the phone, I showed her how to get to the greenway, the Steele Street entrance.”
“I ate lunch with her that day,” Berry added. “She ate beside me and she asked what I was eating, she didn’t know what to eat, and she got tacos.”
The two business owners have known each other for a long time, and The Berry Patch has been selling Pattan’s signature Pee Dee Swamp Sauce since he began making it more than a decade ago.
“When I first started with the sauce, I didn’t have any outlets, and Lee and I have known each other since we were little and I said, ‘Lee, do you want to try to sell this?’….and it’s been slowly growing every year,” Pattan said.
“We sell a lot of that here,it’s unreal how much….for a little small seasonal operation,” Berry added. “It’s another item to sell to promote Richmond County — and then you get a chance to tell ‘em about the restaurant, if they have time.”
Both Berry and Pattan say Richmond County is “on the move” with tourism.
“I see it a lot,” Pattan said. “Everybody talks about the bypasses, the beach traffic and stuff. I see a great deal of beach traffic on Fridays and Saturdays…if people are hungry, they’re going to get off (the highway). Luckily for Lee, he’s right beside the interstate.”
Berry said 95 percent of his business is from beach traffic.
Pattan said once the construction is complete on U.S. 220, he plans to put up a billboard to drum up more business.
“I keep saying, we’re never going to be Pinehurst in Richmond County….but we need to brand ourself as just a stop, a destination, a day tour,” Berry said. “And there’s plenty to do for a day if you come to Richmond County.
Pattan said there’s been a lot of negativity in the county over the years, but people of his and Berry’s generation are trying to make it better.
“Not that the folks before us didn’t,” he added. “I just don’t think they had as much help, as much to work with. And they were going through so much stuff with the plant closings…it was a pretty rough time for previous generations, but our generation, I think we’re trying to make it what we can make it.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.