ROCKINGHAM — The cat is officially out of the bag: The Villager Deli, well-loved at its longtime location in the heart of Pinehurst, is opening a restaurant in downtown Rockingham.
Owner Koley Keel said he plans to have the new place up and running by Jan. 1.
Still under construction, another part of the building will serve as an indoor luncheon area for tourists and visitors who flock to Discovery Place Kids during the school year for field trips.
The Villager Deli has been open for more than 30 years and has acquired a loyal fan base in Moore and surrounding counties. For the last 13 of those years, Keel said he has enjoyed tremendous support from the community as the deli’s most recent owner.
Keel said he has no connections to Richmond County “at all, except for the customers from over there who come to the deli. There’s a lot of people in Rockingham and in Richmond County who are repeat customers here.”
The idea of opening a second location is one Keel has tossed around for a long time, but he said the decision and the timing all came together when he received a phone call from City Manager Monty Crump one afternoon.
“He basically said that there seemed to be a need in downtown Rockingham for places to eat,” Keel said. “And he thought we’d do well and asked, ‘Would you be interested?’”
Whispers swirling through Rockingham about the possibility of The Villager Deli opening a second location here can now be put to rest, Keel explained.
“I’ve been in Pinehurst for 13 years,” Keel said. “The Villager, it’s not a chain, but I’d definitely say it’s a brand. People know about it, and I plan for Rockingham to have the same experience as our Pinehurst location.”
Keel said his years of experience in the restaurant business have prepared him for this expansion, and he has not ruled out the possibility of opening even more Villager Delis in the future.
“When you’ve been in the restaurant business a while, they always say the hardest thing is going from one restaurant to two,” Keel said. “If you get to two and you can be successful, the rest of them can get easier.”
Some people have asked Keel whether his deli will be as successful in Rockingham as it is in Pinehurst, and Keel responds the same way each time.
“It can be successful,” he said. “It can’t fail. I’m not in this for it to fail. I’m very excited. It’s a heck of an opportunity for the deli and for Rockingham. The intention is to duplicate exactly what we do in Pinehurst there in Rockingham, from the menu to the hours. The first weeks we’re open will be experimental as we discover what the customers want. We hope to be embraced there as we have been here.”
The new deli will provide jobs for people in Rockingham with the help of experienced managers from the Pinehurst location who will train employees.
“If we open six days a week, we’ll need 10 to 12 employees,” Keel said. “If we open seven days a week, we’d need 20. Have I lined anyone up, or have anyone set to work at the Rockingham location yet? No, but I’d like them to be local, with help from some current employees to get ‘em going.”
Keel believes employees are critical to the success of a business, and he likes to invest in his team members with the goal of attracting — and keeping — “good employees for a long time.”
“I plan to create good jobs, not lots of them,” Keel said.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-997-3111, ext. 15.