Top Row: Village Inn Pizza will open next month in Boger City; Burger King is returning to Lincolnton after several years absence. Bottom Row: Popeye's may reopen soon; Zhay's now operates on the N. Courtsquare; Local Roots opened in mid-June.
Wayne Howard Staff Writer
Some considered it a risky gamble when the City Council decided in September 2019 to provide up to $200,000 for opening a new full-service restaurant in the downtown area. The City would provide funds for specified expenditures on a one-to-one matching basis; and if the restaurant remained in business for five years, the loan would be forgiven.
In December 2019, the Council chose Local Roots from three competing presentations seeking to take advantage of the program. The City agreed to invest approximately $400,000 in renovations to the infrastructure of the City-owned building on East Water Street just off the Courtsquare. The investment included electrical, water and sewer, and HVAC upgrades.
Councilman Marty Eaddy noted at the time, “this will make the building restaurant ready regardless of what might transpire.” After the upgrades, Local Roots will invested over $400,000 of their own money for remodeling and equipment and entered into a “lease with option to buy” agreement for the building.
At the time, they hoped to open by late 2020 or early 2021, but then along came the pandemic. Local Roots finally opened in mid-June.
The new upscale restaurant has been well received, and now the City Council wants to consider a change in its incentive program that it hopes will inspire others to consider downtown Lincolnton. That original incentive program not only offered incentive loans for new restaurants, but provided for possible loans to existing restaurants who might want to expand.
Two new restaurants have opened downtown recently in addition to Local Roots & Provisions. Zhay's, which previously operated in a strip shopping center off N. Aspen St. and who was one of the applicants for the building that eventually went to Local Roots, has opened in the former Graffiti's location on the north Courtsquare. Vittles, a venture associated with Burton Farms, has opened across from the Post Office.
The proposed changes in the program would include making the loan of up to $200,000 a grant of $50,000. Like the loan, the restaurant would have to stay in business for at least five years to avoid any payback.
The current requirement for a dollar-for-dollar match by the restaurant owners would be changed to a minimum of $150,000 the owners would need to invest.
While the current program doesn't involve any job creation requirements, the new one would require creation of at least two full-time jobs.
The current program requires that the restaurant have a minimum seating capacity of 50 seats. That requirement would be removed.
In addition to Local Roots, Zhay's and Vittles joining the local restaurant scene downtown, other restaurants are also coming. Village Inn Pizza will open next month at the intersection of E. Main St. and Lithia Inn Road; and the new Burger King is being constructed on E. Main next to Raceway. Popeye's Chicken may be about to reopen. They've filed permit applications for remodeling of their former location and appear ready to give it another try.
In eastern Lincoln County, Panera Bread and Starbucks will have a request before Lincoln County Commissioners and the County Planning Board on Monday night (Aug. 2nd). They're planning to open on NC73 next to Chick-fil-A.
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