HAMLET — Errant wires and metal tubes hang through gaps in the ceiling tiles, and a musty smell tickles the nose. The stripped and gutted 2,400 square feet of cement flooring walled in by pastel-colored cinder blocks doesn’t much look like a restaurant, but Ruben Huerta promises it will.
Huerta, who built both the La Cabana and Taco Loco restaurants in Rockingham, has completed interior demolition of an old building that once housed the cafeteria of Hamlet High School and, later, school district offices. On Tuesday, workers lined exterior windows with blue tape or translucent film to prepare for painting and reglazing.
“When we get zoned,” Huerta promised, “we’re really going to take off.” The restaurant — to be operated by the owners of La Cabana — is set to open in March.
Huerta will appear before Hamlet’s Board of Zoning Adjustment at 7 p.m. Nov. 14, to ask that the plot at N.C. 177 and West Hamlet Avenue be rezoned from residential to business use. Those who live in the area have received notices of the hearing by mail. No opponents yet have stepped forward.
On Tuesday, a curious neighbor on her way home from shopping stopped to ask what the building was to become. When she heard, she called Huerta’s plans “a good thing. Everybody’s fixing up the neighborhood.”
Claudia Hailey said she lived a few doors down from the intended restaurant, in a house she bought to rehabilitate. She also said her “boys” would be happy with news of a nearby eatery.
Huerta, too, hopes others will follow his lead. Because the building he bought is more than twice the size of the intended restaurant, he thinks he will seek people who want to lease office space. Perhaps a hairdresser or a lawyer or two?
“I think businesses will start moving in here,” he said. The back of the building already has been divided into offices, although they’re dank and dreary. A little paint and new carpet could go a long way.
An 1,800-square-foot redbrick building sits at the back of the lot. Huerta thinks it could house something like a bakery.
“We’re right where we need to be,” he said Tuesday afternoon, pointing to the busy streets and the neighboring businesses, all built fairly recently.
“I was looking for a place to build a restaurant in Hamlet (for a while),” Huerta said. “But properties are outrageous.
“This one has a kitchen, and the location couldn’t be better. We get a lot of people coming through here.”
The restaurant will have what Huerta called “a hacienda look,” with an arched walkway, an outdoor patio and “a lot of stonework.” Inside flooring will be Santillana tile. He will add restrooms to the restaurant area, as well as a bar.
Huerta also plans to build a privacy fence between the restaurant and the nearest neighboring house.
The restaurant would be the first in town — other than fast-food operations and a pizza place — to offer sit-down eating at the dinner hour. It will be the fourth on the corner, after Burger King, Dairy Queen and Hardee’s.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.