SALEMBURG — If you’re a first-timer walking into Salem Pizza, you might think you have stumbled upon a restaurant serving nothing but the delectable Italian dish. But a surprise awaits, and a great one. For two decades now, the local eatery has been serving its customers more than simply what the name suggests. And they keep coming back, day after day, night after night because of the savory dishes.
Started in 1998 by Ruby Doris Spell, Salem Pizza began with a small buffet consisting of a few pizzas and some country food items. Today, on average, the restaurant serves 350 people a day and offers a line of food that includes chicken, ribs, barbecue, pizza, salad and vegetables.
Taking a rare break from the back of the restaurant, where she oversees the hub-bub of kitchen activity, Spell recalled the restaurant’s history.
“We started with something small,” she said about the business opening. “I never imagined we would have this much success.”
She worked for 10 years at Two Dogs Pizza in Roseboro before deciding to venture out on her own. With about 10 employees, the help of her sisters, Ann and Tina, and the skilled hand of her husband, Goodie Spell, the business opened just beside the family’s auto body shop on N.C. 242, just outside of Salemburg.
Today, there are 28 employees on the books.
As for the menu — Spell, a shy smile lighting her face, says she has always wanted to offer a little more than just pizza.
“I have always tried to serve what the customers like the most,” she shared. “It’s always been about what they want.”
More than 100 pizzas are cooked and served daily, including the famous chocolate chip and strawberry dessert pizzas.
On the buffet, you will find chicken, barbecue, shrimp, catfish, pastry, dressing, rice, mashed potatoes, corn, okra, squash, green beans, spaghetti, that world famous pizza, salad, homemade desserts, rolls and more. Each day the menu will vary slightly, but always includes what customers say is “the best friend chicken they’ve ever eaten.” Though not served every day, the buffet often includes another customer favorite, banana pudding, as tasty, they say as anything their dear, sweet grandmother could have made years ago.
In fact, many say when they sit down to eat the assorted fare, it reminds them of pushing the chair up to their grandmother’s table, where the food was comforting and oh, so delicious.
All of the recipes have been handed down through the generations. The majority of them, Spell said, came from her mother, and she has taught her children, as well as the employees, just how to make all the food taste good.
According to June Carter, Spell’s daughter, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, they serve 120 pounds of chicken each day. And the chicken isn’t just fried. They also offer BBQ chicken and baked chicken.
As business grew over the years, the Spells added onto the location. In the beginning, the restaurant held a capacity of 80 seats. Today, they can hold up to 230 people.
The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, six days a week, and from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Each day the buffet features different items, with Monday being catfish night, Tuesday ribs, Wednesday Italian night, Thursday roast beef and Fridays a scrumptious seafood night.
Carter and her sister-in-law, Donna, work full time with the restaurant. All of Spell’s children, in-laws and grandchildren have worked for the family business over the course of the last 20 years.
“It’s almost a given,” Carter explained. “If you are part of the family, when you get old enough, you know you are going to work at the restaurant.”
As for the customers, both Spell and Carter say they have been more than loyal.
“We have some people who come and eat with us every single day,” Carter shared.
And they are appreciative — very much so. “We can’t thank them enough,” Carter attested. “They have made us successful.”
Looking at the future for the business, Spell says she wants to see it continue to grow, but continue to offer the customers the quality service they are accustomed to getting. Their loyalty, Spell and Carter agreed, has been the driving force behind the businesses’ commitment to customer satisfaction.
“We want our customers to feel like they are home,” Spell said. “Each and everyone of them is special, and we want to make sure they know that.”
An anniversary celebration will be held Tuesday, May 29, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. A special buffet is planned, and anniversary cups will be given out with beverages. The all-day (and night) price will be $8.34.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.