About three years ago, a woman stopped Janice Bundy in the aisle of a supermarket.
She said hello and harkened back to Sept. 5, 1996, the day Hurricane Fran struck Fayetteville. The 115 mph winds knocked out power to large swaths of the city, but power stayed on at Buddy's Bar-B-Q, the barbecue and Southern food restaurant that Bundy's parents started in 1946.
At a time when nearby stores were gouging customers with $10 bags of ice, Bundy was giving bags away for free. Food, too. The Gillespie Street restaurant, which Bundy opened in 1993, was so packed full of hungry diners that some of the regular customers, including the woman in the grocery store, stepped up and volunteered waiting tables that fateful day.
Time did what the storm could not. The lights have been turned off at Buddy's. After 75 years in Fayetteville, including nearly 30 years at its current location on the outskirts of downtown, the restaurant closed earlier this month.
"It was just time to give it up," Bundy said.
While business had been roughly cut in half during the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the return of indoor dining led business to rebound to about 80% of pre-pandemic levels, as diners flocked back for the hearty breakfasts, barbecue pork platters, stewed beef and other Southern favorites.
"If I had a penny for every hush puppy I've dipped, I'd be a millionaire," Bundy said.
The menu hasn't changed much since Bundy first joined her father, Buddy Hayes, in the restaurant in 1976.
At the time, Bundy was working with prominent local restaurateur Fred Chason opening Bonanza steakhouses across Virginia and Georgia until her father called and asked Bundy, a lifelong Fayetteville resident, if she wanted to come home and manage the restaurant.
The breakfast menu, built around platters of eggs, country ham and other meats, grits and biscuits, remained the same menu Buddy Hayes first created decades earlier. Despite the name, breakfast — not barbecue — was the restaurant's biggest seller, Bundy said.
When Bundy first joined her father in the restaurant, Buddy's served only three desserts: lemon pie, chocolate pie and coconut pie. She expanded the selection to include homemade cakes and brownies that both proved to be hits.
"We couldn't make the brownies fast enough," she said.
Bundy took over ownership of the restaurant in 1991. Buddy had died two years earlier and her mother, Betty, was ready to close the doors.
But Bundy wanted to keep it open. At the time, Buddy's was located down the road from its current location at 604 Gillespie St. and had a second location on Ramsay Street.
All told, there have been five Buddy's locations in Fayetteville since it first opened on Person Street in 1946.
She tried adding stuffed mushrooms, mozzarella sticks and other appetizers to the menu, but none of it stuck.
"They just wanted the same food they always had," Bundy said.
Buddy's was the kind of place with a robust roster of regulars who stuck to the same meals every time, only a nod of the head or raise of the finger required to place an order for their usual.
It's those same regulars who packed Buddy's with donations of kitschy memorabilia that lined the windowsills and just about every other available surface in the dining room. The collection started soon after the new location first opened when a construction worker brought in a trio of pink concrete pigs he made for Bundy to display.
Since then, customers have brought in old soda bottles, NASCAR memorabilia, posters from TV shows like "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza" and "The Andy Griffith Show," license plates, teapots, figurines of lighthouses, pigs and cows and much more.
Bundy said she and her family plan to keep the items they want and then hold a large garage sale outside the restaurant and sell the rest.
The building, too, is in the process of being sold. Bundy said she did not know the new owner's plans for the site, but noted that all the kitchen equipment is staying, so she's hopeful it'll remain a restaurant.
Financially speaking, Buddy's could remain open, but Bundy said she's "tired out." She knows, too, the impact the restaurant has had on her family, especially her husband, Rick, who earned the nickname "Mr. Wingman" for coming to the restaurant at night after working at Machine & Welding Supply Company during the day to fix anything that was broken, and her daughters, Brittani and Olivia, who worked at the restaurant on top of other careers.
For Bundy, who routinely worked 80-hour weeks at the restaurant, she and the restaurant became intrinsically linked.
"Everywhere I go, people don't see Janice, they see Buddy's," she said. "I'm trying to hold it together. I haven't broke yet."
She knows it'll be tough leaving behind such a large part of her identity, but she already has plans for the future. She wants to take some time to spend with family and do work around her home.
Ever since they announced the closure on Facebook earlier this month, customers have called offering condolences, offers to have the Bundys over for dinner and questions about where they'll be able to find a sweet tea or cheeseburger as good as they had at Buddy's.
"People thought Buddy's was always going to be there," Bundy said.
The end has come for Buddy's — for now. Bundy "eats and lives" restaurants, having spent much of her life in the business, and while she's looking forward to taking some time to relax, she's already thinking of opening a food truck in a few years.
On the truck, they'd sell barbecue sandwiches with the eastern North Carolina vinegar-based sauce first developed by her father, stewed beef on rice and other favorites as part of a slimmed-down menu that'll highlight the best of Buddy's.
She's taking a break for now, but knows that itch might need to be scratched again.
Jacob Pucci writes on food, restaurants and business. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @jacobpucci or on Facebook. Like talking food? Join our Fayetteville Foodies Facebook group.