What We Walked Into

By Miranda Romano -2014

The streets outside were quiet. The farmer’s market we had expected to find was actually an empty lot, so we searched the buildings for somewhere open; some sign of life. As I stepped through the door of Sam’s Café, a dull little bell ringing behind me, I caught a glimpse of what Alice must have felt when she fell down the rabbit hole. My group and I had stumbled upon a niche in the world that was hardly ever disturbed, and we were clearly outsiders. I walked in last, behind the others, so I was protected a bit from the staring and confused eyes by the bodies of my group members. Nevertheless, I felt incredibly exposed in the middle of that tiny café. Half the people in there were wearing Sam’s Café shirts and the others clearly belonged there as much as those employees. Almost all of the red, plastic booths were empty; only two were occupied, one by a family with a small toddler and a dad with an impressive beard. Unsure of what to do, we quickly sat down at the long bar that ran the length of the room. It looked like it had been running that length since the 50s. We found out later that it actually had been. We took our pick from a menu of simple sandwiches and watched the employees construct them behind the counter. Movement in the window caught my eye and I suddenly noticed a mechanical butterfly revolving around a potted plant. A strange humming from the ceiling lights gave the butterfly an eerie feel. Its little paper wings rustled frantically as it continued its ceaseless revolution. We ate our sandwiches quietly, feigning deep interest in our food. In actuality, we were listening to the comfortable conversations between the employees and the locals at the counter and an elderly man in the back complaining about the loss of his sparkly comforter. We spent a few minutes in conversation with the owner, whom the old man in the back called Pork Chop, before heading back out into the quiet street. All the life in Siler City was held inside that little café and we couldn’t help but feel in awe over the difference between that place and our lives outside the rabbit hole.SamsCafe

A Family Affair: Pork Chop’s Story

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.CHRISDIXON

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.


Siler City Farmers Market

By Grace Elkus and Brynna Bantley, 2013

The Siler City Farmer’s Market is more than just a produce stand. It’s a community of local farmers and craftspeople, all eager to share their handcrafted products and personal stories with any passerby. Small though it may be, the farmers market is vital to the town of Siler City.

Many of the vendors are family-run businesses, including Lindley Farms Creamery. Casey Campbell, who was selling the creamery’s products at the farmer’s market, is the fourth generation of the farm, which has been around since the 1930s. Originally just a milk farm, the family opened up the creamery side two years ago in and now sells cheddar, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, along with a variety of cheese spreads, seasonal ice creams, and their well-known and innovative fresh mozzarella cheesecakes. “It was an accident,” Campbell said of the cheesecakes. “We tried to make cheese and it flopped, so my mom put eggs and stuff in it and baked it. It came out really good.”

The process is now perfected. Fresh whole milk is taken from the farm’s 150 Guernsey and Holstein cows and is then pasteurized in the farm facility, which turns it into mozzarella cheese curds. The curds are mixed with a few ingredients, baked in the oven, and glazed with a “special” sour cream topping.

The creamery is owned by two sisters, Janice Lindley and Ann Campbell. The dairy and farming is managed by Lindley and her nephew, J.B., and the creamery is operated by Campbell and her daughter Casey.  Whether the business will continue to stay in the family, however, is up in the air. Casey said she isn’t sure whether she will take over the business, because although she feels confident with the creamery work, she is less familiar with her aunt’s side of the business. “I pull the cheese, and help pasteurize the milk, and then package and label everything,” she said. “But I really don’t know that much about the farming side.”

Campbell’s brother has already made a decision not to be involved in the family business, choosing to pursue a pharmaceutical career instead. He did, however, contribute to the slogan, ‘From Moo to You’. “He’s so uncreative, and when he said that, we were like, ‘actually, that’s pretty good!’” Campbell said.

Campbell’s favorite product is the pumpkin cheesecake, which is only sold in autumn. Other seasonal products include a Key Lime cheesecake in the spring and German Chocolate, Caramel, and Molasses cheesecakes for the winter holidays. The creamery, which is located in Snowcamp, is about a 15-minute drive from Siler City. Although none of the products are sold in grocery stores, they can be found at local farmers markets, and orders can be placed and picked up at the farm.

While we were chatting with Casey about our project and the reason for which we were interviewing her, she pointed in the direction of another tent and said, “That’s the guy you really want to talk to.”

So while Campbell brainstormed cheesecake flavors, we found Tom Mastej of Silk Hope Organic Produce sitting close by under his own tent, brainstorming something else entirely.

His tent was plush with various types, sizes, and colors of vegetables, many of which were tomatoes. “I just took three pounds of these tomatoes, put them in a five gallon pail, added two cups of honey and water, and six months from now I’m gonna have tomato wine,” he said. “And if I wait a year, it’ll be even better.” We found this innovative, crazy endeavor to perfectly reflect his personality.

Mastej, whose unofficial slogan is, ‘If it’s not fun, I don’t do it,’ has owned and operated Silk Hope for 12 years. Apart from two guys who he says ‘are a bastard to work for,’ Mastej runs the farm all by himself. Born and raised in New Jersey, he said he moved down to North Carolina “to live.”

“The city, you live there all your life, you’re there, you think it’s fine,” he explained. “But after you move away, you go up and visit and you’re driving along the Jersey Turnpike and you wonder, ya know, I need a gas mask, how did I live here?”

His desire for the slower, simpler pace of the south is evident. His reasons for moving down here seem to be rooted in this yearning for small town America, and anyone who understands this endeavor as financially motivated is poorly mistaken. “You ever hear the story of the farmer who became a millionaire?,” he asked. “He started with two million and now he’s got one? Well, it’s true.” But this sad fortune does not deter Mastej, nor does it dampen his spirits. He’s not in it for the money — it’s his passion for how food is grown, prepared, and consumed that keeps him in the business.

What’s more, his passion has given way to knowledge and advice. He advises everyone to eat their vegetables raw, to never eat anything that has been genetically modified, and, above all, don’t put anything in the microwave. “Might as well just kill yourself,” he said, “because that’s what you’re doing.”

So if microwaving is killing us, what’s curing us? Mastej has an answer to this as well: “Garlic spikes,” he said. “Nowadays, the ways the laws are, everything’s becoming so draconian that you’d be arrested for saying this and saying that. But I’m gonna tell you anyways. For thousands of years,” he said as he holds up long, thin green blades, “these have kept the doctors out of business.” He hands us each a piece to try and, after biting off a small taste, we would have warded away any vampires to say the least. Garlic spikes are the cuttings from garlic bulbs and can be used to season just about anything, including soups and stir-fry.

Manej is a charming, personable, and vibrant individual who exemplifies the character of all the vendors at the market. Their love of food, local goods, and conversing with people keeps them coming back every Saturday.


Roger Person: An Artist as Vibrant as His Work

By Grace Elkus and Anne Marie Glen, 2013

In the small town of Siler City, North Carolina lies a hidden gem: a bustling and ever-growing community of local artists. Arguably the most intriguing of these artists is a man named Roger Person, owner and artist at the main street studio cleverly named Person to Person Art. Passersby are lured inside by a life size sculpture of a neon-colored cow out front, and once inside, sculptures and paintings of all sizes and mediums surround you. There are canvases hand-stretched into unusual shapes, broken down mannequins that have been reassembled and painted into strange but wonderful sculptures, and, in his second studio across the street, an installation piece entitled “The Debate” made of several papier-mâché characters arranged in a circle.

The artist himself is perhaps the most interesting of all. Originally from San Francisco, Roger Person began his art career twenty years ago after a disabling accident left him in a wheelchair. The inspiration for his unusual and exciting art comes from a lifetime of adventure, which is nothing short of horse racing across the Western United States, racing motorcycles in the desert and downhill alpine skiing.

“I only worked maybe six months a year, and I’d take six months off and go do things,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve got a lot of memories and experiences to draw from.”

Person’s demeanor is so calm and nonchalant that when he talks, you wonder if he’s joking. But his warm and genuine smile makes you believe his adventurous past, and his larger-than-life artwork is a testament to his exploratory and daring lifestyle. After meeting his wife while living beachside between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, the two moved to Wisconsin and lived on a beautiful piece of wooded, lakeside property. There, he crossed off another item on his bucket list – building a log cabin. After spending twenty years between Wisconsin and Tucson, Arizona, he relocated to Siler City after visiting the area with a friend. Person was drawn to the small town not because of a thriving art community, but rather the lack thereof.

“(My friend) came down to visit his brother, and this little art community was just getting started,” he said. “I could live anywhere I wanted to at the time. But I’d just be another guy. Here, I was the first one to have his own gallery and studio. It was a challenge to try and build an art community from zero. But it’s just another adventure.”

The Siler City artists continue to come up with new and interesting pieces in hopes of drawing visitors and art collectors to Siler City. Creativity is never a challenge for Person, who now has two studio spaces and is always defying the boundaries of what art traditionally is. Person describes his art as “multi-dimensional assemblages,” and it’s easy to see why he needs such a complex phrase when you take a look around the gallery. A small tree erupts from a teal mannequin torso, a chair balances on four mannequin legs and boasts a black giraffe head, and sculptures created from glass, metal, clay, wood, and stone surround the room. Seemingly nothing is off limits- Person showed us more than one piece that incorporated goat skin, which, he explained, gets pliable when wet and shrinks to size as it dries. His workshop behind his studio overflows with mannequin parts, one of his favorite bases for art. He considers himself lucky that he can be so experimental.

“I’ve got an income that sustains me, so I can do all this goofy stuff. If someone likes it, fine, if they don’t, that’s okay too. I’m down here, I’m just playing with ideas and trying to do things.”

Although his art is unique and quite intricate, he produces it at a rate that makes a visitor to the studio want to come back time and time again to see any new additions. Assembling the various pieces comes naturally to Person, who works on his art for three to four hours each day and claims to favor no medium over another.

“What I try to do is use different mediums and combinations,” he said. “I have an engineering and construction background, household manufacturing, so I have a good idea of how things work and go together mechanically.”

Each piece has its own unique and whimsical concept. Person’s sculptures include a playful blue Japanese spirit riding a skateboard in 3D, sitars with the legs of baby dolls, and a mottled blue mannequin lounging vertically, mounted on the studio wall. He has a collection of paintings depicting neon animals in the desert under the night sky. His second studio features a series of cigar boxes filled with baby dolls, clocks, and other paraphernalia. There is not one item the eye can just carelessly pass over, and every piece is subject to change.

“A lot of times, I’ll (start) something, and I don’t quite know how I’m going to do it, and I’ll move onto something else, and I’ll get an idea,” he said. “Then I’ll come back to things that I’ve finished that have been sitting around for a long time and say that wasn’t very good, and I’ll add something else onto it.”

If you are anywhere near Siler City, stopping by Person’s studio is a must. There are too many inspiring pieces to miss, and even if you are not a professed art lover, you will find something in Person’s studio that brings a smile to your face or stays on your mind for the rest of the day. Places like Person to Person art are few and far between, and Person himself is happy to talk to anyone who is interested in his art. To experience him and his artwork is well worth your time.