McCRAY — It was 8:30 on a recent Saturday morning, and business was booming here at Kevin’s Country Grill and General Store.
Sausage biscuits, eggs and bacon, and all-you-can-eat pancakes gobbled up like there’s no tomorrow. Or at least like there’s no guilt about forgoing that silly diet for a day.
Ask Carol Keller, who runs the place with her husband, Kevin, the store’s namesake, and she’ll tell you the steady pace has been more the norm than the exception since they reopened the landmark business about three months ago.
“Actually, at the start, we were a little overwhelmed,” Carol said. “We had people lined up outside waiting to get in. We just weren’t expecting that kind of rush.”
It’s never let up — a testament to the small store’s fiercely loyal following.
Located at N.C. 62 and McCray Road in the heart of this northern Alamance County farming community, the business for decades operated as McCray Mini Mart & Grill. Its trademark was its hamburgers, big and tasty. People drove from miles.
But the health of Ruth Rainey, the longtime owner, declined, and the business closed a little more than a year ago. In an area where there’s not a McDonald’s on every corner, it left a void.
“It’s just a cool community place where you can stay in touch with your neighbors,” said Donna Norris, a resident of McCray. “When it was closed, something was missing.”
She and her husband, Wayne, now stop at least once a week to eat and catch up on the latest in local happenings.
Kevin Keller, 52, the proprietor, drove a tractor-trailer for the better part of his career, close to 30 years. But he’s always had a love of cooking and once operated a food truck, Fat Boyz, on weekends.
He and his wife live a few miles from McCray, in Caswell County, and one day noticed the former mini mart was closed. They contacted members of the Rainey family and eventually signed a lease.
Kevin and Carol invested a great deal of time and effort in refurbishing the store and adjoining trailer that serves as the kitchen.
“This used to be a 1950s trailer,” Kevin said, keeping an eye on a grill of sizzling burgers as he spoke. “That’s the way it was when I took over.”
He replaced the floor in the trailer and knocked out a few walls. Everything about the trailer and restaurant was updated to the liking of health inspectors.
The result was worth the effort.
“I think pretty much everybody in the neighborhood is glad we’re reopened,” Kevin said.
The specialty of the business remains its burgers, but the Kellers have expanded the menu. They serve fried salmon patties and offer a home-cooked specialty on Wednesdays and Fridays. The all-you-can-eat pancake offering is a Saturday morning treat. Store hours are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.
James Moon pastored the nearby Deep Creek Baptist Church for 50 years. Now he’s a regular for breakfast.
“To me, they’re doing a good job,” he said. “I hope they make it.”
So does Frankie Durham, another local who stops in almost every day.
“It was a big disappointment when the place closed,” he said. “Now, you have the same people in here almost every morning. It’s a good thing for the community.”