ROCKINGHAM- One word was used by multiple people while describing Hudson Brothers Deli during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning: family.
Although it’s been back in business for nearly two weeks, owner Rex Hudson cut the red ribbon with a giant pair of scissors outside the restaurant and bar surrounded by staff members, local dignitaries and representatives of the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce.
“Y’all are like family to all of us,” said Chamber President Emily Tucker. “The whole community has been behind you … Downtown Rockingham wouldn’t be the same without Hudson Brothers.”
Tucker commented on the “personal touch” of the staff with the customers, citing as an example when she and her family walk in, her son doesn’t have to order because the waitresses already know what he wants.
Hudson Brothers, which has been in operation for nearly 40 years, was closed for 11 weeks for remodeling and repairs following Hurricane Florence.
Manager Robin Roberts said people in the community kept asking when they were going to open back: “‘I want a spud, I want this. Well, we wanted that too.”
It opened back up Nov. 29 and has seen record-setting business since.
“We are a family here and I couldn’t have done it without all my staff,” Roberts added.
Renovations include new flooring, tables and chairs and re-painted walls as well as a change in decor, most of which came from local shops.
“We’re kind of a blank canvas right now,” Hudson said. “But if y’all will come in the next 35 years, we’ll fill ’em up again with something else.”
The restaurant’s namesakes, Rex and Ray Hudson, first opened the restaurant next door to its current location on Sept. 26, 1980.
“We started in June of that year and worked all summer long,” Rex Hudson recalled.
Prior to that, he had been working 12-hour shifts in the plastic industry in Thomasville and then moved to Sanford.
“My brother called me one day and said, “Why don’t we get in the bar business?’” And I said, ‘I don’t know, we’ll take a look,’ and I came down and saw the equipment and decided we were going to give it a try.
While attending ECU, Hudson worked at a sub shop in Greenville. When they were starting the business, he said he noticed there was no delicatessen or place that served beer except the pizza parlors.
“So when we got the opportunity, we thought this might be a great chance,” he said. “Go into the restaurant business and use what I knew from making sandwiches … and we had a lot of friends in the community and it kinda blossomed from there.”
In 1985, Hudson bought the Watson Building, which was once a funeral home, to move the operation there.
“This building had solid floors all the way up and down … when we came in we cut holes in the floor to make a balcony upstairs so it wouldn’t be so separated between the crowd(s) of people,” he said. “When people come in, they can see each other and enjoy each other’s company.”
When Hudson Brothers opened in the new location, there was a game room upstairs that would kids “give the adults a chance to sit down and have a conversation and enjoy each other’s company while the kids went upstairs and played.”
Today, a claw machine and Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga arcade game sit against the back wall of the downstairs dining room.
Hanging above the kitchen door is a photo from the original ribbon cutting, with the Hudson brothers, then-mayor G.R. Kindley and Steve Morris, who is now Rockingham’s mayor.
“This is a vital part of downtown,” Morris said Tuesday. “There’s something to be said for a small business to be in business for 40 years.”
FIRST IN LONG NECKS AND LIQUOR
Hudson Brothers started off just selling beer, including draught beer, which Hudson said was “a new thing for Richmond County.”
In addition to his sandwich-making skills, he also brought the “fad” of long-neck bottled beer from Greenville to Rockingham.
The next adult beverage added to the menu was wine.
“The ladies of the courthouse liked to come over and join their husbands friends for Happy Hour,” he said, which led to The 5 O’Clock Club. “All the women and men got together to have an after-hours meeting.”
Several community organizations still have regular meetings at Hudson Brothers.
In 2002, when mixed beverages were allowed in the county, Rex Hudson drove up to Raleigh and sat in the ABC Commission Office for several hours for a mixed-beverage permit — the first in the county.
“One of the reasons people come here is to try a good cold one, get away from the drag of working all day, he said. “That’s what we’ve been good for … trying to let people relax and have a good time.”
Hudson Brothers has also been a part of Richmond County’s music scene, currently with mostly local bands every Friday night and karaoke/ open-mic night on Wednesdays.
Hudson said Roberts has been instrumental in bringing in the bands.
“Originally we had people like Billy Whitlock and Keith Campbell,” he said. “Occasionally we had some people that came from out of town, but mostly it’s been local.”
Several local band members, including Chuck Smith and Colby Hildreth, even worked at Hudson Brothers.
In earlier days, the deli hosted jazz concerts which have since moved to St. Andrews University, according to Hudson.
The side wall was once covered in band promo photos and included a set list and autographed cymbal. Now, one space is set aside as a memorial to the late Joe Harris and Tommy Adiemy, bassist and guitarist of Ponder, who passed away nearly a year apart in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The first band to play after Hudson Brothers reopened was Hardwired, a hard rock cover band with Richmond County natives Philip Neal on guitar and Bub Barrett on bass, and Mark McRae, originally from Anson County, on drums.
Last week’s act was Blindsighted, and this week’s entertainment will be Doing It Again, featuring Chris Herring and Roger Campbell.
In addition to being “a place for a deli and an adult beverage,” Richmond County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kenneth Robinette and Chuck Cobb, the Chamber’s past chairman, both commented on Hudson Brothers’ family atmosphere and how the staff treats the community like family.
Robinette added that the perfect recipe for creating that atmosphere and the restaurant’s success is “hiring good people” like Roberts and Diane Whitfield.
“We’ve seen a lot of ‘Deli Babies,’” Hudson said. “We call them that because their mothers and fathers come here and eat our sandwiches … and before it’s over, they have a baby eating our pickles and subs.”
Some of those “Deli Babies” now have kids of their own, he added.
“We’ve seen a lot of families come in and that’s what keeps us going,” he said. “As long as we can keep the community supported and they keep supporting us, we’ll be here ’til their grandkids are coming.”