'It was depressing': Iconic Raleigh restaurant The Roast Grill reopens after pandemic closure

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Beloved Raleigh hot-dog restaurant The Roast Grill has finally reopened, after being closed for more than a year because of the pandemic.

"(I was) just itching to get back in here. And it just kept going on and going on," said owner George Poniros.

Because of the restaurant's small size, operating at 50% capacity and enforcing physical distancing were not realistic or financially feasible options, essentially forcing Poniros and customers to wait until all capacity limitations had been lifted.

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"It was depressing. It was financially breaking and burdening and I'm self-employed, so I pretty much had to live off of credit cards and empty my savings account just to have food on the table and pay the electricity and cable bills," Poniros said.

When ABC11 stopped by Tuesday, every seat at the counter inside the small dining room was taken, with people standing to snag their seat.

"Since he's been back open, I've been here every day," said Chris Hogan, a long-time customer.

Hogan is not only a customer, but a restaurant record-holder, once traveling from Fort Bragg to eat at The Roast Grill every day for more than 10 consecutive weeks.

"I think it was only 76 (days) because I was getting deployed. If I hadn't getting deployed, it probably would have been more than 76," Hogan said.

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He first learned of the business through its appearance on the popular television program "Man vs. Food" and while he encourages everyone to try the food for themselves, it's not just what's being served that keeps him coming back.

"I don't know if you've ever seen the show 'Cheers,' but it's like a family atmosphere. George is like - I call him my stepdad, I call him dad. It's like family," Hogan said.

Opened in 1940 by Poniros' grandmother Mary Charles, the hole-in-the-wall staple on South West Street has welcomed generations of diners throughout the Triangle with a straightforward, simple menu: hot dogs, with your choice of chili, onions, mustard, and slaw.

"It's not like any other hot dog - it just isn't," Poniros said.

Poniros agreed with Hogan's assessment that The Roast Grill is more than a business.

"It's almost like a family situation where I serve people that I know are actually customers, but I know their names, I know about their families, I know what they want to eat," Poniros said.

He's grateful to see familiar faces once again.

"I love what I do," he said.
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