LUMBERTON — Days before Hurricane Matthew struck, Fuller’s Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q Restaurant in Lumberton took delivery on T-shirts designed to celebrate 30 years in business. That party was rained out exactly six months ago on Oct. 8.
With their doors closed since the flooding from Hurricane Matthew, Fuller’s owners say they have not given up on reopening in Robeson County. However, it remains unclear if the restaurant can rebuild on the existing site.
Fuller’s Restaurant is one of many local businesses that have not reopened in the months since the hurricane. Like Fuller’s, they are negotiating with insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local building inspectors.
Fuller’s legendary buffet for three decades was celebrated in Robeson County as plain good food and appreciated by travelers up and down Interstate 95 as a taste of genuine Southern cuisine. It was a favorite of locals as well, especially on Sundays following church when hundreds would line up. It’s food was praised in numerous North Carolina food guides on places to visit.
Demetrius Hunt, her two brothers, James and Eric, and a sister, Sandra, own the restaurant that was founded by their late father, Fuller Locklear. The restaurant was orginally established three miles west on N.C. 211 from its current location at N.C. 211 and I-95.
“It was devastating,” Hunt said. “We lost everything.”
But she promises that Fuller’s will be back. She just doesn’t know when or where.
The restaurant has been in a long process of meetings with insurance companies, appraisers, inspectors and FEMA. At first, its owners were not sure if their insurance covered flood damage. Soon, they will learn if the restaurant can remain at its current location.
However, as a business entity, Fuller’s is still cooking. A second Fayetteville location just opened.
“We were able to put our 75 Lumberton employees back to work in Fayetteville,” Hunt said. “I go up there to help, but we miss home.
“The Lumberton restaurant is more than a location for sentimental reasons,” she said. “It was our parent’s restaurant.”
The walls of the restaurant were covered with family photos, portraits and memorabilia. It is the restaurant their father built from scratch.
Some customers feared that the second Fayetteville restaurant signaled that Fuller’s had written off Lumberton and Robeson County, Hunt said. She offered assurances.
“So many people, especially our older customers, really depend on us,” Hunt said. “We have one customer who ate lunch with us every day. He is 95 and calls us every day.”
A decision will be made after meetings this month, Hunt believes.
“We want to make the right decision for the family, employees and customers,” she said.
Fullers can’t come back fast enough for its thousands and thousands of faithful customers.
In the meantime, take a memory trip down the buffet at Fuller’s Old Fashioned Bar-B-Q. Vegetables come first: fried okra, butter beans, field peas, black-eyed peas, cabbage, corn, collards, mustard greens, rutabaga, coleslaw and more.
Down the line are the meats: barbecued pork, pork ribs, chitterlings, fried chicken, roast chicken, chicken and pastry, livers and gizzards, beef stew, fried and broiled fish and shrimp. On the side there are hush puppies, cornbread, french fries, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, rice and more.
Don’t forget to go back for dessert. There is red velvet and chocolate layered cakes, banana pudding, pies, cakes, ice cream and more.
Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-416-5649.