RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Family-owned restaurants are a staple in communities throughout the country. The coronavirus pandemic is leaving most of them with an uncertain future.
Barbecue purists consider Ole Time Barbecue a must-stop among some pretty worthy places that serve 'cue in North Carolina. Despite that, the popular stop is facing challenges from COVID-19 like any other restaurant.
They've scaled back hours, trimmed employees and things got so dire, Owner Ben Hart had to lay off his own sister.
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Hart and his family opened the restaurant in 1993 and has gathered a loyal following. In some ways, the customers are part of their family.
"It's more than just a restaurant," said Hart. "I've had customers that really have ate every single meal of their day here."
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Hart said the amount of customers has dwindled, but the amount of work he and his team are putting in has doubled.
Despite the setbacks, the Harts are still lending a helping hand and helping the community they're a vital part of. Restaurant staff is donating eggs from their personal chicken coop, preparing meals for frontline workers and running their $5 'pay it forward' program that customers can donate to.
"You take a little slip and you write a message," Hart said. "Somebody comes in here and it's pretty down on their luck, and you get a free meal."
Hart shared his Brunswick stew recipe with Good Morning America on Thursday. It's a "clean-out-your pantry" recipe, good for budgets.
Hart and the owners hope their brand of Carolina-style, vinegar-based 'cue can keep comforting hungry folks in the Capitol City.
Raleigh's Ole Time Barbecue still paying it forward despite setbacks from COVID-19