ST. PAULS — A restaurant that has been serving St. Pauls residents for 60 years remains closed after a Saturday evening fire destroyed much of the kitchen and left the dining areas damaged by smoke.
The fire at Ferguson’s Grocery and Lunch, at 330 S. Burlington St., which was caused by a pot left on a stove, caused about $100,000 damage to the restaurant, according to St. Pauls Fire Chief Evans Jackson.
Known simply as Ferguson’s to most and Fergie’s to regular customers, the restaurant had been closed for four hours when a neighbor called 911 to report the fire, Jackson said. Firefighters from St. Pauls Fire Department and Big Marsh Fire Department, who were downtown at a fundraiser for a Lumberton firefighter’s family, responded within two minutes and were quick to put out the fire.
“They spared us so much, not only containing the fire but trying their best to preserve the building,” owner Mike Ferguson said on Monday, while he and his family were picking through the charred remains of the kitchen. “They have meant so much to us, and I can’t tell you how much without breaking down.”
The restaurant, which serves up to 200 people a day, has been at its Burlington Street location since 1949.
“It’s not pretty,” Mike said of Ferguson’s. “It’s not fancy. It’s an old, ugly store that looks like it’s been here, and has been here, since the 1940s.”
Still, the restaurant, which serves what Mike describes as “fast food that you don’t get very fast,” has continued to thrive, even though it has never been advertised anywhere except at St. Pauls High School.
“The only way you find out about Ferguson’s is if someone who loves Ferguson’s brings you here, and we’ve grown from that,” he said. “People always have a story of how they got here.”
Before opening at its current location, Ferguson’s had operated for five years as a lunch counter at E.Z. Musselwhite’s Grocery Store at the corner of Elizabeth and Clark streets. Established by Dewey and Nell Ferguson, Mike’s grandparents, it served the Burlington Mills community until the late evening shift change. As the mill closed and business tapered off, Ferguson’s switched to just serving breakfast and lunch.
In 1973, the restaurant was passed down to Tim Ferguson, Mike’s father. On paper, Mike is the current owner, but he and his father have run the restaurant together for the past 16 years.
“We try to give you a fair value on what you get,” Mike said. “Our success comes from the town, who cares so much.”
Mike wasn’t sure of the restaurant’s future.
“Right now, we’re in the process of getting stuff cleaned up and trying to see what could possibly be salvaged,” Mike said. “We are going to try and see what we need to do to make this building work again … we will see if we need to relocate or carry on at our present location.”
“It’s has a nice small town, home town atmosphere,” said Tommy Lee, owner of God’s Little Goshen Thrift Store on Broad Street. “It’s a nice change from the fast food places.”
Glenn Tatum, store manager at NAPA Auto Parts on Broad Street and a frequent patron, hopes the eatery will reopen.
“I’m definitely going to miss it,” said Tatum, who has lived in St. Pauls all his life. “I love my ham and cheese sandwich for breakfast and my foot-long hot dogs for lunch.”