Selena Kelemen came to downtown Rock Hill to learn about catering options at the Palmetto Room. She left captured by the story of the former McCrory’s lunch counter and its place in civil rights history.
Kelemen walked past the silent counter where students of Friendship Junior College asked to place an order for food in the 1960s, were arrested and earned their place in history when they decided they would serve their jail time instead of posting bail.
“I had a feeling, I was drawn to it. I wanted to be part of it. Protect it and celebrate its memory,” Kelemen said Friday.
The feeling was so strong that Kelemen drafted a business plan for another restaurant at the space. She wanted to honor the civil rights history, she wanted to honor the tradition of the old five-and-dime store and she wanted to honor other aspects of the community’s history.
She envisioned a day when the members of the Friendship Nine would return “and come dine with us.”
She even had a name for the project, “Five and Dime,” to honor the site’s past.
While traveling one day with Aya, her 8-year-old daughter, Kelemen told her of the idea. Aya said she had a better name; call it “Five & Dine,” she said.
Selena Kelemen said she was so proud of her daughter that if she hadn’t been driving she would have hugged her.
Five & Dine’s anticipated opening at the historic site, also the site of the former Old Town Bistro, is Sept. 26.
Kelemen said she hopes Five & Dine, in some ways, captures the feeling of the Old Town Bistro, which had a loyal following for its short downtown run.
Like the Old Town Bistro, Kelemen wants Five & Dine to be a place where people come and feel comfortable, surrounded by good food and good service.
During lunchtime, Kelemen plans to “celebrate the American classics – some with a twist.” There will be grilled cheese sandwiches, sloppy Joes, a variety of salads and meat and vegetarian chili.
In the evening, she wants the place to take on a supper club feel with an All-American menu featuring meatloaf, fried chicken and pot roast.
The key ingredients, she said, are comfort and hospitality. “They are in bold print several times in my business plan,” she said.
Kelemen has five years of experience running the Fish Market Bar and Grill in Fort Mill’s Baxter Village. The Fish Market opened in the fall of 2008 when the economy bottomed out. “We decided to stick around,” she said.
Kelemen said she and her husband, Tomas, were not anticipating opening another restaurant. But the historical draw and the ability to recreate some of the aspect of a five-and-dime store led them to open the new restaurant.
To pay homage to the history of the location, the Kelemens have moved a display that tells the site’s history along with an original salt and pepper shaker set and sugar container to the front of the restaurant, visible from Main Street. To call attention to the display, they put the original McCrory’s letters vertically on the nearby wall.
To create a five-and-dime atmosphere, they will install an old-fashioned soda fountain. Available will be the “five classics,” she said: homemade sodas, egg creams, floats, milkshakes and phosphates.
“We want to appeal to people who have those memories and to treat other people to that history,” she said.
The celebrate some of the community’s other history she plans to put some of the ads used by Springs textile industries on the wall.
The walls have been painted a bright yellow. There’s new lighting. The lunch counter and its historic chairs remain unchanged. But there’s still lots to be done in anticipation of the opening.
Kelemen said the opening day may be delayed by construction, but when everything is done, she plans a “soft opening,” without fanfare, serving lunch and dinner during the week and adding breakfast on the weekends.
She wants people just to “wander in and share in our excitement.”
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066