Owner of the new River Rock Cafe, Lee Charleville, is hoping to replicate the success he’s had in downtown Winston-Salem to his hometown in Danbury.
“People have been after me for years to do something up here, and I just didn’t think I had the time. But I finally decided to try it,” he said.
Charleville got his first taste of the restaurant business as a college student when he took on a job at Peppers in Boone.
“I really liked it; I was interested in everything from the business to the food side,” he said. “My senior year I ended up switching my major from pre-med to hotel and restaurant management.”
The risky move paid off.
Soon after, he married his wife Jane and the two found their way to Winston-Salem where he began working at a nearby deli. He quickly moved up the ranks to manager and eventually bought the business, along with another deli in Mount Airy which he sold a year later.
“I enjoy everything about it, from cooking to serving. I love people and seeing them enjoy my restaurant. I get a real kick out of them bragging on the food and the atmosphere. It can be very creative and it allows you to try new things,” Charleville said. “I grew up with my grandmother who showed me everything she knew. I could make a pound cake by the time I was five, so I guess I’ve always loved working with food.”
Charleville said Downtown Deli, off Liberty and Fourth in Winston, seats 125 people and serves 300 a day.
“Of course this is much smaller which means I can give more attention to the customers and keep it quaint. We seat 44 inside and 20 outside. I’m looking forward to this fall because it’ll be nice outdoors,” he said.
What remains the same is his popular sandwich menu.
“I was able to take the top 25 grilled sandwiches that I’ve come up with over the last nearly 30 years and use them here. We also have soups and salads like the deli. I decided to do pizza and pasta which is something I’ve never really done before, and it was more challenging than I expected. Perfecting the dough and the sauce took some time, but I’m really proud of how it turned out.”
The community has been supportive and the reviews have all been positive, Charleville said.
“People leave happy and seem to like the fact that it’s a little healthier. That’s been well received,” he said.
While the restaurant sees its fair share of locals, Charleville’s also attracting a number of tourists on their way to Hanging Rock.
“There’s been a lot of families coming in from out of town which has been nice. We have some that come to camp and end up eating here twice a day. I hope to see them when they come back every year,” he said.
Charleville said he’s been able to invest his time in the Danbury location mainly due to the experienced crew who work in Winston.
“I have employees who’ve been with me over 20 years. I’m blessed to have a really good staff. The people here in Danbury are catching on and doing a great job, too.”
The owner may be partial to a few of his hometown employees. All three of his children have worked alongside him since the River Rock Café opened in March.
“I couldn’t do this without the support of my family. They’ve all been a huge help getting things up and going. Two of them leave for college soon so it’s been great having them be a big part of this.”
For more information about River Rock Café visit http://riverrockcafe.us/.
Amanda Dodson can be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.