A slice of Rock Hill history will slip away next month when the Minute Grill – the oldest black-owned restaurant in York County – serves its final plate of livermush after 57 years.
“I hate to close, but I am tired,” said owner Margaret Roseborough, 67, who uses a cane to help her get around the South Wilson Street establishment. “I can’t do it anymore. A restaurant, it is seven days a week. It is just too much.”
Roseborough will close the legendary meeting and eating place on Feb. 13 – the 11th anniversary of the death of her father, founder George Thompson Sr.
At the Minute Grill, just a block from downtown, the building is old. Most of the pictures hanging on the wall are old. Many of the customers are old. And Roseborough admits she’s getting old, too.
“I just need to slow down,” she said Wednesday.
Soon, no more legendary hot dogs or grits or livermush or what the handwritten sign on the front door promises: “Soul Food.”
Despite opening in 1959 in a strictly segregated Rock Hill, the Minute Grill has never turned away a customer based on the color of his skin, Roseborough said.
“All – that means everyone – has always been welcome at the Minute Grill,” she said. “My father meant everybody from day one, and it has always been for everybody.”
When the Minute Grill closes, an era will close right along with it. The walls are covered with what amounts to a museum of black history – hundreds of pictures and magazine and newspaper clippings featuring civil rights icons of the 1960s, sports stars, politicians, entertainers and successes in academics, right up through President Barack Obama. An entire section is reserved for Roseborough’s favorite entertainer, the late Michael Jackson.
Photographs of the members of the Friendship Nine, the civil rights protesters jailed after sitting down at a segregated lunch counter in downtown Rock Hill, also are displayed prominently at the Minute Grill.
“We always wanted people to look at these walls and see success,” she said, “to see that they, too, could be successful.”
A sign on one wall tells all who enter that the Minute Grill is for conversation and joy and community only: “Be good or be gone.”
“We suffer no fools here,” said Roseborough. “Nobody wants to see somebody’s pants hanging down.”
The Minute Grill has always been segregated on one front: vinyl-seated booths and cooked food on one side, short-order grill and bar on the other side. A wall separates those drinking beer on one side from those ordering fried okra on the other.
One door leads into the place – turn to the left for the bar/short-order counter, go right for the sit-down restaurant. Roseborough keeps an office on the restaurant side. Except to clean and stock and work, she doesn’t set foot on the bar side.
But, like her father before her, Roseborough knew over the years that Rock Hill’s blacks needed a public place to gather. And sometimes on hot days – in a world that can love and hate – that meant a drink that wasn’t iced tea.
The Minute Grill was not always on Wilson Street. It was located in Rock Hill’s black business district on Black Street from 1959 until 1972. When the city tore down the block of black businesses as part of its “urban renewal” effort, George Thompson bought the building on Wilson Street a block away.
“The Minute Grill is Rock Hill,” said cook James Roseborough, Margaret’s husband. “For us, the Minute Grill has always been here. It was where people came to be.”
But that customer base – largely blue-collar workers – has dwindled as those people have aged into retirement or died. Younger people flock instead to places that are near the Rock Hill Galleria or other, newer parts of the city.
Margaret Roseborough said she won’t rent the building, because that would mean she would still have to be involved in the place. She hopes to sell it, and a few people are looking at it. Maybe, just maybe, she hopes, someone else will open a restaurant there.
But there are no guarantees. And any sale will not happen quickly.
So, on Feb. 13, fish will be fried and greens will be stewed and the last cold beers will be served. All at the Minute Grill will take one last look at the photo of Muhammad Ali, and realize what happened to the legendary boxer is what happened to the Minute Grill.
Greatness ends, because greatness gets old.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065