Lee Price has worked in fast food for almost all of his adult life. But now he’s doing it his way.
Price opened his first restaurant, Papa Lee’s Grill, on March 15 at 2600 New Walkertown Road, in the former Zesto Burgers & Ice Cream spot.
Price, 52, is a 20-year veteran of McDonald’s restaurants who more recently spent seven years at Bojangles.
When Zesto opened in 2018, manager Algenon Cash called in Price for the first few months to help get the restaurant on its feet.
Zesto, owned by Goler Community Development Corporation, closed over the summer due to the pandemic. Michael Suggs, the president of Goler, said that Goler still owns the property and is the landlord for Papa Lee’s Grill, but it does not have a stake in the new business.
Price said that, after leaving Bojangles in 2017, he was in semi-retirement. “But even back then, I was thinking about the idea for Papa Lee’s,” he said.
After Zesto closed, Price said, he had some talks with Goler about taking over the space. “One of the things we talked about was me taking over Zesto, but I wanted to do my own thing,” he said.
Papa Lee’s menu for the most part sticks to fast-food classics such as burgers and hot dogs.
“I know what people like. People like a good sandwich at a good price,” Price said.
The menu has nine different burgers, from a $2.50 hamburger to the $7.50 Papa Lee’s Big Bubba Double Cheeseburger — the latter features two quarter-pound beef patties, cheese and chili.
“You almost need a fork to eat that,” Price said.
The $7 Papa Lee’s Tarheel Steakburger uses chopped sirloin with green peppers, mushrooms and onions on a hoagie bun.
The $7 Lee Jr. Prince Royal Burger comes with a fried egg on top of a quarter-pound beef patty.
“That’s named after my son. That’s something that I just cooked up at home one day,” Price said.
The menu also includes a turkey burger and a vegan burger made with Beyond Meat. Hot dogs are available regular size ($2.50) and footlong ($4.50).
Other sandwiches include BBQ, grilled cheese, fish fillet and chicken breasts. Wings are available in packs of four, eight and 12 ($4.50, $7.50 and $10, respectively).
The menu also includes a few tacos. Chu Chu’s salsa and fish taco ($7.85) features deep-fried tilapia and is named after Price’s friend Clive “Chu Chu” Davis.
Papa Lee’s also sells bean and chicken tacos, as well as birria beef tacos.
The menu also has a couple salads. Sides include fries, onion rings, fried okra and slaw. Drinks include coffee, soda, tea and juices. For dessert, there are ice cream cones, sundaes, milkshakes and apple pie.
The restaurant is open for dining in or takeout for lunch and dinner six days a week. Price plans to add breakfast in April. The restaurant also has a drive-thru.
Price said that restaurant work is hard, but he’s never been drawn to anything else.
“My dad was a restaurant worker. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said. “This has been a dream of mine to open my own restaurant since sixth grade.”