NEWTON GROVE — At the bar inside his restaurant, Kent Sutton flipped on the light switches and turned on the televisions with sportscasters talking about the latest basketball and baseball games.
It’s almost 11 a.m. and Parkside Sports Grille is preparing to welcome the first customers of the week. As the chairs are being arranged, cooks are preparing food in the kitchen. Some of their choices will include flatbread pizzas, salads, wings, seafood, burgers or Korean beef tips — a specialty at the restaurant.
It’s a dream Sutton started many years ago.
“There’s a lot of variety,” he said. “That’s one of the things I was trying to accomplish. If someone wanted a good steak, they don’t have to drive 30 miles to go get it. We got it here.”
Located at 521 Clinton St. in Newton Grove, Sutton and Parkside Sports Grille enjoys giving patrons that experience.
“The community has been real supportive. When I opened it, the whole idea was to bring something to the community that the community has never had.”
For Sutton and the employees of Parkside Sports Grille, everything was going well until Oct. 8, 2016.
“We got flooded,” he said about the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, which caused water from the town and a nearby creek to merge on his property.
The water was near the ceiling in the front section and totally flooded the rear section.
“We got inundated that day,” he said. “The water was 6 feet deep back here. It was to the bottom of those TVs.”
The building is in the floodplain and it is something Sutton was aware of before purchasing the building. The worst storm prior to Matthew was Hurricane Floyd in 1999. After it struck, only one foot of water damaged the building. After the Matthew storm, many repairs were made. Some of them included new windows, woodwork, roofing and flooring. Parkside Sports Grille was closed for five months. It reopened in March.
“Everything you see in here is brand new,” he said while looking around one of the rooms.
Sutton grew up in Sampson County and graduated from Hobbton High School. He later earned a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For several years, he was in the newspaper business and also worked with Herff Jones as a sales representative.
The building, which was purchased in 2013, was previously home to a Two Dogs Pizza restaurant. It was completely renovated with the addition of another dining room and bar. With the help of business partner Johnny Kaleel, Parkside Sports Grille opened in 2014. They remained associates up until 2015, when Kaleel began another opportunity to become a salesman with a food equipment company. At that point, Sutton began to do a little bit of everything, to include inventory, scheduling, payroll, marketing, bartending and cooking.
“Long story short, it’s been an eye-opening experience and rewarding in a lot of ways,” Sutton said.
After moving back to Newton Grove in 1998, he helped to establish a referendum for on-premise alcohol sales. While serving as the chairman of the Newton Grove 100 Committee, the idea was to have more restaurants near the interstates surrounding the town — but it never happened as planned.
“We reached out to several businesses and chain restaurants,” he said, “but they thought the population wasn’t enough to justify even considering it.”
But that did not stop Sutton from starting Parkside Sports Grille. He believes it is something Newton Grove needed. Now, it’s a popular spot where people can watch a game or enjoy a meal with their family and friends.
“Alcohol is certainly not what we promote,” he said. “We promote a family-friendly environment. We’re a restaurant first with full (Alcohol Beverage Control) permits. If someone wants to come in here and have a cocktail, beer or a glass of wine, they have access to that.”
For a lot of local people, the casual dining restaurant eliminates drives to other towns such as Clinton or Smithfield. Nearby schools such as Midway High School, Hobbton High School and South Johnston High School are supported at the “Grille.” He does not refer to the establishment as a bar because of the family aspect.
“We cater to all ages and we have a good crowd after church,” he said.
The restaurant hosts several events outside on the patio. One of the upcoming events is DJ music and karaoke with Ross Kimbro, scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday, May 19.
About 12 employees assist Sutton with making the restaurant a success.
“After we reopened, there was a pent-up demand,” Sutton said. “People realized they missed us and they were real anxious and we hit the ground running on March 1.”
Next Monday will mark two months since the reopening.
“It’s been a good run so far and the community has been real supportive,” he said. “We’re grateful that we’re still able to be here and hopefully we don’t have to go through that again.”
Pat Holmes, kitchen manager, is one of the original employees of the restaurant.
“I’m glad that we can come back and carry on,” Holmes said. “We’re just trying to make Parkside the best of the best.”