PITTSBORO - Bluegrass music lost a regional hub, and Pittsboro a dining mainstay, when the General Store Café closed last year.
Caterer Greg Lewis has bought the restaurant in the former Justice Motors building and hopes to reopen by the end of summer. Renovations are under way, and Lewis, the proprietor of Catering By Design in Cary, says he hopes to bring homegrown music back by August.
“My wife and I were regulars here,” Lewis said. “We’d come Fridays or Saturdays, just my wife and I, to listen to music and have dinner. Wednesdays, we’d bring the kids and have dinner.”
The former Chevrolet dealership, converted in the late ’70s to a market, restaurant and music venue, was in a state of disarray after months of disuse. Previous owners undertook the rear expansion in 2006, just before the U.S. economy tanked. Lewis bought the business from bankruptcy earlier this year.
“We were so saddened, like everybody else, when it closed,” said Lewis’ wife, Maria Parker-Lewis. “The motivation wasn’t to open up a restaurant again; it was to keep this place going.”
Miles Andrews, bassist and frontman for the Big Fat Gap Band, said the restaurant was the fun center of town. “It was cool playing there watching the whole of town go by,” he said.
“They had old-timey picking, they had regular blues-style, three-finger style picking,” said Jeff Bell, who recalled weekly jams at the café. “They’d have a lot of pickers up there. It was one of the most diversified bluegrass jams I’ve ever been to,” Bell said. “The Red Clay Ramblers used to play there all the time.”
Tommy Edwards has a long history of playing bluegrass at the General Store Café, with the Carolina Lightin’, the Leroy Savage Group and other outfits. He owns a music shop in downtown Pittsboro.
“Being a musician, living in Pittsboro, I had lots of opportunities to play at the General Store…I played there once a month, and I would try to bring in a different band,” Edwards said.
Andrew Marlin, guitarist for the band Mandolin Orange, reflected on playing the cade in between recent Tuesday picking at the Armadillo Grill put on by the Big Fat Gap Band.
“It was cool to have a venue in Pittsboro, you know? It was cool to play for a bunch of people who didn’t get to go to a venue or couldn’t drive to Chapel Hill. We’d just do a gig there, and sometimes go see someone else play,” he said.
“It was a nice place, with a good sense of community.”
That same afternoon in May that Greg and Maria talked about their plans to open in late summer, Pansy Flynt and Cathy Cash dropped by to arrange for their shag dancing club to hold its meetings at the General Store Café. As workers installed new lighting, the pair remembered its place in the community.
“You know, it was an eclectic type of place, and I think that’s what Greg is going to do; he’s going to keep it very similar to what it was,” Cash said, “with a few improvements, obviously.”
Parker-Lewis said that whatever plans she and her husband have, preserving the community character of the establishment is their priority.
“That’s why we want to be careful when we open this. People have been coming here for years,” she said.
“One thing I think is important about the new owners is, they put a whole new soundsystem in,” Tommy Edwards said, “And they are doing sound panels to help create a better sound in the room.”
“That could be a big improvement,” Edwards said. “It’s a great venue, because if you’re in town in a band, it’s a great place to play. And it’s a great place if you’re just passing through.”