SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) – For more than four decades, a Johnston County restaurant has been serving up plates of BBQ and seafood at a reasonable price. The Smithfield institution, known as Holt Lake, is closing Saturday. The owner said the pandemic and its impacts made a challenging business that much harder.
With just a few days to go, the line to get into Holt Lake BBQ and Seafood stretched around the building Wednesday evening. Some traveled for hours to get here.
“It was kinda a family affair. Me, my dad, my mom, my brother,” owner Terry Barefoot said.
Barefoot said he’d just graduated from college when his dad asked if he wanted to help start the place. That was back in 1979.
“It just took a hit and went off. We’ve been very blessed,” he said.
They rebuilt after two fires. Barefoot said his parents continued to work here into their 80s. He’s been running it on his own for the last 12 years.
“It’s hard for one person. You really need a couple of people to do something on the scale that we have here,” he said.
The pandemic only made things harder. More recently, he’s struggled, like many restaurants, to find workers. They’re down 15 people, which means he helps out everywhere he can.
Then he got an offer. Someone was willing to buy the place.
“Most of them knew, you know my age and everything, it wasn’t going to be forever. Unless they toted me out feet first or whatever,” Barefoot said with a laugh.
“It was really sad because we’ve been coming here a long time and we really enjoy the food. It’s just a really great place to be,” said longtime customer Rita Faison.
“Second home, second family. Spent as much time here as I do at home,” longtime employee Sylvia Lee said.
Lee spoke with CBS 17 at the drive-thru window between breaks in cars. There weren’t many.
“It’s just kind of sad to think a part of history is leaving Smithfield,” she said.
Barefoot said he let his staff know the past weekend. Word quickly spread. He’s been getting a hard time from customers ever since.
“‘You’ve got the best chicken salad, what am I going to do? Will you give me the recipe?’ I’ve given out four recipes today,” he said.
While he’s got mixed feelings about it, he said his doctors, two daughters, and five grandchildren are happy about it.
“They’ll be a lot of stress lifted off my shoulders. A whole lot of stress,” Barefoot said.
He said the new owner didn’t just buy the building. They bought everything inside. It’s unclear what their plans are.
Barefoot said the new owner is letting him use the back of the building for the next few months to follow through with previously scheduled catering events.