By JAY LAMM | firstname.lastname@example.org
With only three hours to go until the doors closed for good, Gail Epps’ eyes scanned under the Hardee’s counter for a straw.
Always trying to serve, she said.
“Service is key to running this place, even today,” she smiled.
Saturday was the last day of operation for the Hardee’s in downtown Wake Forest — and the customer traffic was near-normal busy, as locals came in for a last biscuit early or a thick burger for lunch. Employees were focused as if it could have been opening day — not the closing one.
Some customers were reminiscent, and others were truly upset that the fast-food restaurant was closing.
“I remember coming here with my Granddaddy when I was a little girl,” said Ashley Barnes of Rocky Mount, a toddler waiting for ice cream, and a baby on her hip. “He loved the hot dogs and would bring my Grandma, me and my brother all the way here to get one.”
Boddie-Noell Enterprise, the owner of the franchise, decided not to renew its lease, partly because of escalating rent, and to close Aug. 22. The staple eatery has operated in that location for more than 40 years. The space is listed as available for lease beginning Aug. 30.
One Wake Forest businessman, who did not want to be identified, said his employees come there every morning and usually for lunch.
“It will be a big change for my work crew,” he said. “They have been talking about it for weeks, and now the day has come.”
The loyalty goes both ways, Epps, the manager, said.
“We will miss our Wake Forest customers,” Epps said.
She was interrupted briefly.
They were short on hot dog rolls, as the last of the inventory was cooked and served up.
“Hot dog rolls, seeded rolls, apple turnovers – we are running out of some things,” she sighed, glancing toward some kitchen equipment that was stacked against the wall, awaiting removal, and calling the next mid-day customer forward.
The good news, she added, is Boddie-Noell is looking for another location in Wake Forest.
It has been speculated that orange signage near a construction site around Olive Garden on U.S. Highway 1 would be the location of the new Hardee’s, but that will actually be a new Dunkin’ Donuts.
“We are not abandoning Wake Forest. We will locate — probably on US-1 or somewhere with more customer traffic. I just don’t know when this will happen, but Wake Forest will have another Hardee’s,” Epps said.
One outcome is no one lost a job as a result of the closing; they went to other locations in Rolesville, Franklinton and Zebulon, Epps said, and could return locally with the new restaurant.
Epps, however, spent her true last Wake Forest day on Saturday.
“I live in Rocky Mount, and I’m going to work in two Hardee’s there,” she said. “I retire in a couple of years, so I’m working near home until I hang up my apron.”
All day, social media lit up with praise and memories about the Hardee’s.
“This is hard saying goodbye,” said Epps with tears in her eyes. “I am going to miss these people.”