FAST FOOD STAPLE EXPANDS

Cook Out plans July opening in Siler City

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SILER CITY — There’s only one place North Carolinians go where banana pudding and watermelon-flavored milkshakes are on the same menu, and it’s coming to Siler City.

Cook Out, a fast food restaurant chain with more than 200 locations across the Southeast, has purchased a 1.65-acre lot on 1513 E. 11th St. — in front of Days Inn, and between Walgreens and Sonic Drive-In — and has a target opening date of July 13, 2023, according to the Triangle Business Journal, which first reported the news on Oct. 26.

The property sold for $620,000, according to the land deed filed Oct. 24, and was formerly a BP gas station. The excise tax on the deed is $1,240 — excise taxes are paid on all real estate transactions at a rate of $1 per every $500 sold, according to North Carolina law.

Jack Meadows, Siler City’s planning and community development director, said the county had preliminary discussions with Summey Engineering Associates, an engineering firm based in Asheboro, about a possible Cook Out opening in town back in spring 2021.

“And that’s really all that happened, was just answering questions about building setbacks, permitting process,” he said. “But no formal application was made, no pre-development meeting application, new site plan or zoning permit application for the project, so it was more about information gathering.”

The last his department communicated with Summey about the new restaurant was back in January, when the engineering firm said it had been put on hold with the project. Meadows said he hadn’t heard any updates until TBJ reported the news of the new property.

Cook Out CEO Jeremy Reaves did not respond to multiple messages at the time of publication, but given the reported timeline of when the property is expected to open, Meadows said he anticipates the town will want to get started with site development and construction quickly and staff is ready to process a formal application. The current property has been vacant for some time, Meadows said, but it has several utilities already set up to serve a new business well.

“So one of the things that gets the town staff and the town excited about these projects is redeveloping that site,” he said. “Now it can be put back in use, because it’s been vacant for some time now. Redeveloping vacant, underutilized spots are really good for us because the road access is there, water and sewer infrastructure is in that area, power and all the infrastructure you need to get a business — it’s already there.”

For some Chatham County residents, the news is welcome, and even unsurprising, Meadows said.

“I know that the word got out in the community,” Meadows said. “The community was pretty excited about a Cook Out [coming to town].”

Similarly, Siler City Mayor Chip Price said for a year, he’s been fielding questions from people in town asking about the progress of a Cook Out potentially coming to the area.

“They [residents] were asking a long time ago,” Price said with a laugh. “They wanted a Cook Out.”

Wendy Black, a Siler City resident, said she was happy to hear Cook Out was on the way. Black, 54, said as a single mother, she would often take her kids to the restaurant when they were growing up in Winston-Salem, where they could get combo plates for low prices.

Cook Out, which was founded in 1989 in Greensboro, is most known for its signature menu offering more than 40 milkshake flavors; the chain also serves char-grilled hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, cajun fries, quesadillas and more.

Now, with her children all grown up, Black takes her five grandchildren to Cook Out.

Black is looking forward to seeing more food options come to the county — the customer service representative said when she and her husband moved to Siler City from Pittsboro in 2019, they “blew through” all the restaurants in town in just a few months.

“I want this side of Chatham County to start growing and expanding,” Black said. “I mean, because they’re doing all that in Pittsboro with Chatham Park, and since they put the chicken plant here, I’d like to see a lot more variants of restaurants — not just fast food, but sit-down options too.”

Price said he believed the new location will add more variety to the other fast food chains currently in town. Another benefit he hopes the Siler City restaurant will bring is greater appeal among young people, saying he’s noticed the Cook Out restaurant in Asheboro drawing in large crowds, especially after local sporting events.

“But we need something,” he said. “It’s good to have something that the young people want to participate in here in our town for a change.”

Meadows said he anticipates additional businesses will continue to locate along U.S. Hwy. 64, a highway commercial corridor with high traffic, as the county and Siler City evolve and new megasites coming to the area get under way.

Elijah Mears, digital branding director for Express Lane Strategies, lives in Greensboro, but on drives to visit his parents and his husband’s parents in western Wake County, said he’d bypass traffic on I-40 by taking U.S. Hwy 421 and Hwy. 64 through Chatham. Those drives led Mears to jokingly dub Chatham County a “Cook Out desert.”

“And a lot of the times, with just when we’d leave, it would happen that we’d get hungry while we were in Chatham County,” Mears said. “And so we’d noticed that there was not a Cook Out in Chatham, which is one of our favorite places to stop on the road.”

As someone with an interest in mapping and who took GIS courses in college, Mears pulled locations from the chain’s website and created maps displaying all the Cook Outs in North Carolina — including the gaping “Cook Out Hole” in Chatham. Mears posted the maps to Twitter in October 2020 because he thought others might be interested, too, and the tweet ended up getting close to 100 likes.

Though Mears and his husband don’t eat Cook Out as often as they used to, they still make the drive through Chatham frequently, he said.

“But once it’s open, I’m sure we’ll probably stop by just on the principle of the matter,” Mears said.

Most Cook Outs are drive-through or have walk-up windows only, but newer locations — like the recently opened Chapel Hill Cook Out on 450 South Elliott Road — have dine-in seating as well. Meadows said he doesn’t yet know what the Siler City location will look like, but that the zoning district for the property allows dine-in and outdoor seating, as well as a drive-through.

Reporter Maydha Devarajan can be reached at mdevarajan@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @maydhadevarajan.

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