Colonial, longtime fixture downtown, closes
By William F. West
Thursday, July 6, 2017
A downtown restaurant that once served meals to most of Elizabeth City’s movers and shakers has closed, a victim of changing demographics and traffic patterns, one of its operators said Wednesday.
The Colonial Restaurant, a fixture at the northwest corner of East Colonial Avenue and North McMorrine Street for more than half-a-century, served customers for last time on Saturday morning.
Kelly Lacy, who operated the Colonial with his wife Lisa, said in a phone interview the couple made the decision to close the diner about a week ago.
Lacy cited three reasons for the decision: A dwindling clientele, declining traffic downtown and the movement of traffic to Ehringhaus Street and Halstead Boulevard Extended. All of those things added up to fewer people wanting the home-cooked-style meals that were the Colonial Restaurant’s specialty, making it difficult to continue making a profit, he said.
“What we found out is that over the years with the aged demographic that we served, there were less and less of them,” he said.
A note to customers affixed to the window of the now-closed restaurant in fact states the closing is “due to a constant pattern of reduced business,” explaining that “it is no longer fiscally prudent to continue operating” the Colonial.
According to Lacy, the restaurant known as the Colonial had been in business for 93 years. Some of those years were spent at other locations. However, the Colonial known to most residents had been in the same spot on the corner of Colonial Avenue and McMorrine Street since the early 1960s.
For approximately 15-16 years, the business was owned by Lisa Lacy’s father, Warren Meads, a prominent potato farmer. Meads leased the Colonial to other operators before the Lacys took over following Meads’ death in May 2013 at age 85. Lisa Lacy inherited both the restaurant and the Colonial building from her father.
Prior to the restaurant’s closing, the Colonial employed a staff of 10, Lacy said. Many of those workers have gotten jobs elsewhere, but he’s not sure about the others, he said.
Lacy expressed disappointment for the restaurant’s employees, noting that he and his wife had always tried their best to take care of the people who worked for them.
“We had a great group of employees – and we really appreciated everything they did and how they worked with us,” he said. “Our concern was for them and continues to be for them.”
He said he and his wife probably could have closed the Colonial earlier than the start of this month.
“But, we just were trying to make the best arrangements to do what we could,” he said.
Lacy said a number of the restaurant’s long-time patrons are disappointed by the decision to close, “but everyone seemed to understand” the reason for it.
“At the end of the day, there's not nearly the traffic downtown as it used to be,” he said. ”The center of the town has changed – and what was once the center of the town is not the center anymore.”
Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Director Deborah Malenfant said in a statement Wednesday that she was disappointed to hear the Colonial had closed.
“I know the Lacys struggled with the decision – closing a business is rarely an easy decision, especially a business you love,” Malenfant said.
“The Colonial Restaurant was a classic American diner and it was part of the culture of our downtown, serving comfort food to many and also serving as a meeting place where many an important decision was made, for sure,” she said.
“We wish the best for Kelly and Lisa and their family and will always consider them part of the downtown family,” Malenfant said.
Lacy said he and his wife are holding out hope that someone will purchase the Colonial building, make contact with its now-former employees and reopen the restaurant.
“We have it up for sale or lease as a fully equipped restaurant,” he said. “Certainly, we can't tell anyone what to do, but if someone had interest in doing that, we would certainly do everything we can to work with them to help them remain.”
As for what he and his wife will do now, Lacy said they have other activities that will keep them busy.
“We have some other things that we do – and we'll keep working in different areas doing different things,” he said.