ROCKINGHAM — The sign on the door reads “Opening Soon!”
Henry’s Uptown Cafe has been closed for more than a year, but should be opening back within the next few weeks — with a new look and a new menu.
Restaurant owner Henry Antos closed the door to his establishment on March 17, 2020 when Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all restaurants to shut down in response to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some eateries stayed partially open, providing take-out orders and curbside service.
When Cooper eased restrictions to allow limited capacity, Henry’s remained closed because the small size of the dining room and lack of outdoor seating wouldn’t allow for a profitable amount of patrons.
“Actually, God told me to stay closed,” Antos said Wednesday afternoon while putting together new chairs and rearranging the seating area with cook/waiter Zach Harris.
But his food didn’t go to waste.
“I gave a lot away to the food pantries in Mount Gilead and here (in Rockingham),” he said.
As for the rest: “That’s how I’ve been surviving … I’ve been eating everything from here just to stay alive.”
Antos said he had applied for a federal assistance grant — which turned into a loan — and it took more than a year to get the money.
Before the government provided any assistance, Antos said it was the customers who came to the rescue, with some people donating money to help him pay rent and utilities.
“God’s been good to us,” he said.
Now Antos is waiting for a new computer system and a few other things before firing up the grill.
When it opens back up, the restaurant will have a different look.
The side walls will be lined with booths, which have yet to be delivered.
“That way I can put partitions — cloth, plexiglass, whatever it is — so that section will be separate,” Antos said, adding that he’s trying to “plan for the future” in case there’s another outbreak of the coronavirus.
There will also be new decor to reflect the farm-to-table aspect of the business — such as fresh produce from organic growers in Ellerbe — including cow-print chairs and agriculture-related pictures on the walls.
While he will serve up most of “the same good food,” the menu will have to change — in part to higher prices.
“I was surprised,” Antos said about going through the order book from his distributor.
When he first started in the business in 2007, Antos said a box of soda was $35. When he shut down last spring the cost had risen to $86.
“Now it’s $107 … that’s seven dollars a gallon … for what? Sugar, color and water,” he said. “No way around it now and hopefully the prices go down.”
Menu items that weren’t selling well have been removed, but there will be a few new foods added. There will also be a machine to make frozen beverages.
Antos said, as far as he knows, all of his employees are coming back.
Several other restaurants in the area and across the Southeast, including Hudson Brothers Deli, have had issues finding employees since the pandemic.
“I’m grateful that they’re all coming back,” Antos said.
For now, he’s just trying to get everything cleaned up for the re-open.
“You’d never know, a place being closed, how dirty it gets,” he said. “The dust … where’s that dust come from?”
The plan is to re-open Henry’s by mid-July, as long as Antos has everything he needs.
“I can’t wait to see our customers again.”