By Kelley Dodge – 2014
Driving into Siler City on a Sunday morning was like entering a ghost town. With most people at church, there were no cars on the street and no people to be seen. After driving two loops around the downtown area, we finally spotting some activity: a flashing neon “open” sign in the front window of a little restaurant named Sam’s Café. Upon entering the restaurant, the six employees and five guests stopped to stare. We are greeted with a “Good morning, y’all” in one of the thickest Southern drawls I have ever encountered. In a town where everyone knows each other by name, we were clearly out of place.
Sitting at the bar in a diner-style restaurant, we were treated to the story of Chris Dixon, owner of Sam’s Café. Chris, more affectionately known as Pork Chop to the locals, was a truck driver for Hart’s Furniture for many years. Opening a grill, however, was something he always hoped to do. About a year ago a little restaurant called Sidewalk Café went out of business in downtown Siler City, and Chris saw his opportunity. Buying the space without hesitation, Chris opened Sam’s Café just three months ago. Not only is it conveniently located in the heart of downtown Siler City, but the suite occupied by Sam’s Café also has a rich history of restaurants dating back to the 1950s. Originally built as a hot dog and beer joint, the café still sports the original wooden bar and blue and white floor tiles.
As we chatted with Chris he casually addressed one of his waitresses: “Stuffy, will you come take their order?” This friendly, familiar vibe could also be seen by the fact that one of the waitresses was casually stealing fries off one of the guest’s plates and gossiping about town drama: “She conned me out of my sparkly comforter!” Additionally, the family of three sitting at the booth behind us occasionally piped up, asking “Pork Chop” to grab them some more ketchup or another serving of hash browns. Chris told us that in Siler City, nothing is a secret. Because the same families have lived in town for hundreds of years, everyone knows each other by name and knows each other’s business.
Emphasizing his own family values, Chris proudly told us that the café is named after his stepdaughter, Sam, who acts as the manager and head waitress. Additionally, Chris leased the suite right next door to Sam’s Café for his girlfriend’s photography studio, so family would never be more than a few steps away. After learning that we were students at Elon University, Chris was excited to tell us that his son, a metal worker, was currently working on one of the new construction projects at Elon.
When asked about the key to success, Chris explained that you have to care for your customers like you care for your family. One example of this came up as we ordered water. Chris explained to us, “I don’t charge for water. I hate when places charge for water. So what if I lose a couple cents on the cup. I just want to make my customers happy. Gotta keep them keep coming back.”
Sporting locally made overalls, a green Sam’s Café t-shirt, a stud in his left ear, Chris is the epitome of a small town man. His humor was evident the minute we walked in the door and read his restaurant’s motto, proudly displayed on a sign on the shiny white walls: “It’s my kitchen and I’ll fry if I want to” (a motto he certainly lived up to, I might add). Another interesting piece of décor was a pot of fake flowers on the windowsill with a mechanical monarch butterfly fluttering in circles around it. Adding to the café’s eccentric atmosphere was a sudden burst of heavy metal, rock music coming from Chris’ pocket, which only stopped after he gave a hearty chuckle and answered his phone.
After checking out at the front register, we wished Chris luck with the future of the restaurant and hit the road. Next time you’re driving down Raleigh Street in Siler City, be sure to make a pit stop at this small-town diner.