06/10/12 — Restaurant openings likely to be filled soon

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Restaurant openings likely to be filled soon

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on June 10, 2012 1:50 AM

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A sign announcing Central Lunch's closing hangs on the restaurant's door as Murphys Place on Center Street is reflected in the glass. The businesses closed within weeks of each other.

The doors closed on two downtown businesses in the past month, but there are signs Center Street will still break even by this summer as both are likely to reopen before fall.

Central Lunch, an on and off again downtown fixture since 1905, was shuttered May 21 when customers walking up to the eatery were met with a sign explaining the owners couldn't keep the diner's tradition open due to "basic economics."

Likewise, a sign appeared on the front door of Murphys Place across the street in mid-May indicating the restaurant and bar would be closing for good after it closed June 2.

Both closings came just weeks after work began on the Center Street Streetscape project, which cut off direct connection to the businesses from Ash Street, but Central Lunch owner Larry Hill said the decision had nothing to do with the renovations, but rather was a result of the work not happening sooner.

"The only thing is had it started 10 years ago like it should have, it would be a booming business now," he said.

Instead, Hill, who also owns the building Central Lunch is in, said the closing was due to an unofficial deadline he decided on when he first tried his hand at running a restaurant. He said he wound up in the restaurant business by default and that his background is mostly in construction. When he took it over, he said he determined that if the business wasn't making money after a year, he would close.

"It had never done the business it needed to do," Hill said, adding that he couldn't continue funding the diner out of his savings.

But the business might not be closed long, he said, as two restaurateurs have already approached him about taking it over. He said he anticipates the restaurant will once more be feeding customers within the next few weeks.

Downtown diners will have to wait longer before they can eat at the former Murphy's restaurant, however, as its new owners' restaurant, PHISH, won't be open until the end of the summer.

Stephen Rhodes and Andy Mitchell, who own and operate Brown Bag Cafe on Patetown Road, are hoping to open their seafood restaurant and bar in the space at the corner of Center and Walnut streets by August.

The fare won't be typical fried seafood, though, instead focusing on fresh fish, scallops, oysters, steaks and burgers, including an option to create your own burger from the ground up, picking cheeses, sauces and even patties from an extensive list that will include beef, buffalo and wild boar along with vegetarian options such as tofu and portobello mushroom.

The bar will feature martinis, mixed drinks and fine wines, presenting a modern dining and drinking option downtown.

Rhodes said he and his partner were looking to open up their business in Raleigh or near Walnut Creek and were a day away from signing the papers for a Triangle location when they learned about the opening in downtown Goldsboro.

Mitchell had told Rhodes that the right location would probably fall into their lap so when the spot on Center Street opened up, they jumped on it.

The opening of the business will come ahead of the completion of the 200 block of North Center Street Streetscape, and Rhodes said he is aiming for his restaurant's focus on food to help put PHISH at the forefront of downtown's revitalization.

"I'm hoping we can change the face of downtown," he said, adding since the next phase of Center Street's renovation hasn't been funded yet, he is not worried about construction derailing his business.

Still, he said that the project's completion will mean great things and new options for downtown businesses and Goldsboro.

Dean Sox, an owner of Murphys, couldn't be reached for comment on the closing, but Hill said he had spoken with him about it.

He said it didn't appear the Streetscape was the cause of the closing, especially since much of his business was done in the evening.

Both Sox and his wife, Lynn, were sentenced in September 2011 after they pleaded guilty to crimes stemming from an illegal "numbers" lottery operation that was discovered when sheriff's deputies from Wayne and Duplin counties, Mount Olive police officers and federal authorities raided Murphys in March 2008 when it was located in downtown Mount Olive.

The restaurant's hours had been shrinking for months leading up to the closing earlier this month.