Rocky Mount’s No. 1 restaurant is going to be shifting from the Douglas Block downtown to slightly more than a mile to the northwest to the Rocky Mount Mills commercial and residential development.
The Prime Smokehouse: Barbecue & Beyond this summer will become the first restaurant to locate inside the main mill building of the Rocky Mount Mills campus, a public relations person for the restaurant said in a press release late Friday afternoon.
The campus is located off Falls Road, on the south side of the Tar River and close to the expressway-like U.S. 64. The restaurant will be close to the lobby in the main mill building.
Specifically, the relocated Prime Smokehouse will be in a 7,300-square-foot location, with the ability to seat about 230 people inside, in addition to another 25 to 30 outside for riverside dining, the press release said.
The Prime Smokehouse is a tenant in renovated city-owned property in the 200 block of East Thomas Street and close to the Rocky Mount Event Center, which opened in 2018.
The restaurant is ranked as the best one in the city on the travel-centric TripAdvisor website.
The restaurant’s owners, Ed Wiley III and wife Yalem Kiros, had been restaurateurs in the Research Triangle area before relocating their business to downtown Rocky Mount in 2013.
That was a couple of years after completion of the redevelopment of the Douglas Block, which once was a thriving historically African-American business district.
Presently, The Prime Smokehouse operates in a 3,500-square-foot structure, which can seat about 100 customers, including a dozen at the bar.
Wiley, in the press release on Friday, said, “Anybody who’s visited our restaurant, especially on a busy weekend, understands our dilemma when it comes to space.
“We’ve been bulging at the seams for quite a while and nothing hurts more than turning away patrons because we’ve got nowhere to put them,” Wiley said.
Wiley said in the press release city officials had been working with him for at least a couple years to find a larger location in the downtown area when the opportunity arose to relocate to Rocky Mount Mills.
Matt Honeycutt, real estate development manager at Rocky Mount Mills, said in the press release he and the rest of the team are delighted to welcome The Prime Smokehouse to the campus.
“Their barbecue restaurant is a great addition to the many eating and drinking options we have on-site — and we look forward to a great partnership,” Honeycutt said.
Wiley said, “We have loved being in downtown Rocky Mount. We’re right next to the beautiful new event center and there are so many amazing things going on all around the area, so naturally, moving has left us with feelings of ambivalence.
“But at the same time, we see ourselves entering an exciting new chapter,” Wiley said. “We’re going from one great landlord — the city of Rocky Mount — to another, Rocky Mount Mills.”
City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said in the press release she believes the city has been quite fortunate to have The Prime Smokehouse operate downtown since 2013.
Small-Toney also said she is pleased the city’s facility served as a place where Wiley and Kiros grew a business renowned in the restaurant world.
“Their presence drew many visitors and inspired others to invest in downtown Rocky Mount,” Small-Toney said. “While they will be missed downtown, this relocation allows The Prime Smokehouse to remain in our community and move to a facility that provides the expansion the company indicates it needs.”
The Rocky Mount Mills campus is an ongoing development of Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting Co. Presently, the campus offers craft beer and eating establishments, along with the 4,000-square-foot Power House event venue.
A major addition came with the May opening of the River and Twine Tiny House Hotel. The idea is to have tiny house hotels as options for guests to spend nights on the campus so they can enjoy Rocky Mount Mills and the river.
The campus also became the home of more investment in 2019, with New York Times best-selling author Etaf Rum becoming a co-operator of the Books and Beans coffee shop and eatery. Books and Beans had a soft opening in October.
Rum and a group of partners also acquired the Tipsy Tomato pizzeria on the campus.
In November, the attorneys and support professionals of the Rocky Mount office of the Poyner Spruill law firm bid farewell to the Franklin Street location downtown for a first-floor suite in the main mill building.
The site of the former Rocky Mount Mills can be traced to 1818. The original facility was the second-oldest cotton mill in North Carolina.
During the Civil War, the riverside site was damaged by a fire set by Union forces. After the war, the site was rebuilt, but Rocky Mount Mills shut down in 1996 amid the decline of North Carolina’s textile industry.
In 2007, Capitol Broadcasting, led by the Goodmon family, stepped in as the purchaser, with the long-term vision being for a mixed-use development at the site of both the old mills and the old mills village.