by Terry Rogers
Robert Irvine and a small number of his crew are returning to restaurants they saved over the past few years as the industry struggles to survive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the weekend of August 14, the crew stopped in to check on the Southern Grille in Ellendale.
“Robert Irvine is a great person and was no different than the first time he visited,” Ronald White, owner of the Southern Grille said. “He is very, very helpful and carrying. After Restaurant Impossible left last year, we were super busy and it was great. COVID-19 has devastated the restaurant industry period, especially the smaller places like us. It’s been tough.”
This is the second time that Irvine revisited the Southern Grille. In April, while restaurants around the country were shut down, he filmed an episode entitled “Quarantine Checkin.” During that episode, he held Zoom calls with various restaurants to see how they were managing the shutdowns. One of the people he spoke to was White and his front-of-house-manager, Claire.
“What a hardworking guy,” Irvine said of White. “He had a lot of debt, a sick wife and what I admired about him the most was that he worked, he worked, he worked and he worked some more. Since we were there he was doing amazing.”
While talking with White, Irvine told him that after the show aired, the “world fell in love” with him, stating that there was nothing about Ronald White that “that people could not love.” When the original show aired, White had hoped his grandson, Laymere, would take over the restaurant but his grandson revealed that he wanted to go to nursing school. Irvine convinced White to promote Claire as manager and use Laymere in a different capacity.
“Business was picking up great,” White said during the Zoom interview. “People were coming from all over the place because they had seen the show and they wanted to see how good it was. It was at least 50 percent higher.” Irvine joked that people were coming for White’s “noodles,” a term he used to describe the dumplings White was known for making. White laughed that he had sold three pots of dumplings the day before.
Irvine then asked White how he had adapted to COVID-19.
“Oh, it has been rough since,” White said. “We had to take and lay off some of the great employees we had. You just hope the best for them and hope they can make it. A lot of sleepless nights. We are doing takeout. I have a 1972 Airstream trailer that I paid $600 for back in the day. When I saw this coming, I gutted it, cleaned it up and made it a full kitchen with a convection oven, deep fryer, microwave and grill. The restaurant is closed completely. I just use it to prep up some stuff. Whatever we can do to make a dollar, we are doing.”
White is currently offering an almost full menu on his food truck which is located at the corner of Route 16 and 113 in Ellendale. He says that one piece of advice Irvine gave him is to slightly downsize the menu but to “keep on doing what you are doing and keep your head up.”
“My plan is to open the restaurant soon,” White said. “Our customers are waiting patiently and we appreciate all the love and support they have given.