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.
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."
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.