Restaurants and bars hoping to cash in during first full weekend of summer

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been a long wait for Tonya Council and the team at Sweet Tea & Cornbread Grill and Eatery, which has been closed since March 2020.

"I've had a lot of people asking when are we going to return," said Council, who owns the restaurant located inside the North Carolina Museum of History.

Their business took a 70% hit due to the pandemic, as Council pivoted to porch drop meals.

A large portion of their clientele is from the State Legislature across the street and guests at the museum and Museum of Natural Sciences.

"(Museum management was) like 'okay numbers are picking back up, you might want to see if you can start reopening," Council recalled.

She also owns a retail location of the same name in Crabtree, Tonya's Cookies, which is based in Chapel Hill but primarily operates online, as well as NC Made, an online gift box company. Council highlighted the importance of supporting local businesses.

"We can't survive without you. Local is everything. So without the farmers, without the local stores a lot of these people would be out of business. At my store in Crabtree, I also support a lot of local people. I bring jams, and jellies and toffee from local people so that keeps them going," said Council.

"We've been trying to hit all the little places like this, little places (that are) unknowns, (places) with good food. I've been trying to go to the museum, trying to get back out because for a whole year we didn't get to do anything," added John White, a customer who stopped by for lunch Saturday afternoon.

Council is the granddaughter of Mildred Council, known as "Mama Dip", the famed culinary icon. She still helps her family at the namesake restaurant in Chapel Hill.

"She would just say to just push on and do what you can do and we were always taught to just keep working, and we always work together," said Council.

About a half-mile away, Clouds Brewing drew a nice crowd both inside and outside.

"We definitely have been pleasantly surprised and at times it's hard kind of keeping up with how fast it's happened. It is just incredible to see everybody out here," said general manager Nicole Madey.

Outside of a close location, both establishments noted the addition of new staff, a common theme at restaurants and bars across the area.

"We have a lot of new staff. So people coming in (and) understanding a little patience while we get up to speed with the volume," Madey said.

"I've never seen it before in my life. You usually have people walking in and asking (for work), but you can't even get people to fill out an application these days," said Council, who noted she has four new staffers and one returning from pre-pandemic.

Clouds Brewing was down about 60% off projections in 2020, and while statewide restrictions have been largely relaxed, are still enforcing social distancing and requiring staff be masked.

Limited by the pandemic, they began planning ahead, working on beautifying and expanding their patio space.

"By wintertime, we're going to enclose this entire patio area with a nice awning and have heaters out here so we'll be able to sit even more capacity than before COVID," said Madey.

They have two locations in Raleigh and another in Brightleaf Square in Durham.

"Our taproom right down the street off of Atlantic Avenue is doing lots of events and hosting food trucks and deejays, and they do Cause for Paws events as well. So business is picking up there," said Madey.

Clouds Brewing hopes to loosen some of their restrictions later this summer.
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