Erin’s Restaurant in Rock Hill to close after New Year’s Eve

dworthington@heraldonline.comDecember 27, 2013 

Erin McManus eased into a booth at her own Rock Hill restaurant on Friday. The lunch rush was ending and a group of ladies filled the center tables, playing mah-jongg.

Her eyes were slightly red and she was tired. Before a question could be asked, she said, “Don’t make me cry.”

And then she blurted out proudly, “This is the best thing I’ve done, the happiest I’ve been, the best I’ve felt.”

But it comes to a close with one last seating on New Year’s Eve. After 16 months of operating her own restaurant – and six years overall in the business – Erin is closing Erin’s Restaurant.

Rising debt is the reason for closing, she said. She would like to stay open, but without a belated gift from Santa Claus or a winning lottery ticket, closing is her only option. Taxes, which she said took one-third of her income, proved to be too much.

Owning her own restaurant and serving people had been McManus’ dream since she was a child.

Without any formal training, she pursued her dream, first as a volunteer cook at the First ARP Church in downtown Rock Hill. She wrote about food in York County for the Charlotte Observer, before beginning a three-year vagabond cooking trek, borrowing other restaurants’ kitchens when they were closed to concoct her food and turning their Formica and wood tables into fine dining with linens and tableware.

She started at the Durango Bagel at Herlong Avenue where everything had to be cooked on the bagel oven – one hour for each dish. She developed a chef’s table where everyone ate the same thing; the menu varied by what she could find at local farmers’ markets.

From Durango Bagel she went to Kinch’s in downtown Rock Hill, where she had an oven and stove-top griddle.

In August 2012 she opened Erin’s Restaurant at a shotgun building at 129 Caldwell St. Family and friends helped prepare the dining room. Her pride and joy in the kitchen was a new-to-her professional cook station that has 10 burners, two convection ovens, a grill, fryer and broiler. The station was purchased used from Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte.

Items from her chef’s table, such as the tai cucumber salad, macaroni and cheese and blue cheese slaw, became staples of her own restaurant.

Joe Raines was her lunchtime chef. Jeffrey Couzzens was the night grill manager. The three would put their heads together to determine what they would cook based on what McManus purchased at farmers’ markets in Charlotte and Rock Hill.

“My farmers were phenomenal,” she said. Several of them grew vegetables and fruits at McManus’ request. Soon giants tubs of parsnips and Cherokee green tomatoes were coming to the restaurant. McManus said she learned to like rutabaga and giant watermelon radishes.

Purple, yellow and white carrots became part of the routine, too. “I never knew how good carrots were when pulled from the field that morning,” she said.

Raines and Couzzens, she said, expanded her spice palette, and large bottles of spices are now lined along one prep table.

Pasture-raised beef and chicken were often the main course.

The farm-to-market menu, and a consistent quality, kept customers coming back. There for a final time Friday were Matt and Norma England of Rock Hill and their friends, Bill and Rita Deck of Winston-Salem, N.C., but formerly of Lesslie. They said they liked that everything was fresh, that the restaurant’s atmosphere was eclectic and “Erin’s personal touch.”

But McManus said she struggled with the “front side” operations of the business. “I couldn’t be two places at once,” she said.

“I can’t go farther into debt,” she said.

Her focus is on the final shifts at the restaurant. After that, McManus said she doesn’t know what will happen, other than she will start looking for a job.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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