• Stephanie Rzonca

Copper Penny Grill to Open December 6

The Copper Penny Bar and Grill, located at 131 N Washington Street, will be opening this Thursday December 6. The restaurant’s coming to Rutherfordton has been a long-time goal of Paul and Shelly Gref, the restaurant owners. The way this project came together was of great benefit to the building owner, Ken Appling, and fulfilled a larger vision for the Town of Rutherfordton.

Rutherfordton's Public Works Department was once housed at 131 N Washington

The Firehouse Inn, located directly across from the new Copper Penny location

Before the structure was renovated to become a restaurant space, it was the longtime headquarters of Rutherfordton’s Public Works Department. Keith Ward, the public works director, said that he and many others on town staff thought that the heart of historic downtown was a bad location for the town’s heavy equipment. Visitors staying at the Firehouse Inn Bed and Breakfast had the treat of watching Rutherfordton’s finest garbage trucks, leaf trucks, and dump trucks from the vantage point of the historic Inn. Furthermore, Public Works was growing and the space on North Washington Street was inadequate for what the department would need going forward.

As the Town was determining where the Public Works Department could move, some other wheels were turning. Ken Appling, of Appling Boring, and the owner of the building that houses The Olive Tree restaurant, was looking for a new building. His desire to procure a new building was a part of his overall desire to contribute to the downtown’s revitalization. Simultaneously, the Copper Penny was in the midst of searching for a Rutherfordton location. An almost six month long search through available properties was not turning over any good leads for the business.

Appling approached Doug Barrick, Rutherfordton’s Town Manager, about whether the town would sell the Public Works building. Barrick, knowing that the Copper Penny was looking for a space, and that Appling liked having restaurant tenants, introduced the two parties. Once town council caught wind of this idea, a plan was formulated to turn the Public Works Building into a full-service restaurant that could be a catalyst for continued downtown revitalization.

Buying a government-owned building isn’t exactly a simple or straightforward real estate transaction. Given traditional methods, the building could have been sold to a buyer with no stipulations, with the possibility that the building would remain an eyesore across from one of the most gorgeous buildings downtown. However, the town decided that pursuing a negotiated sale with specific development terms would improve the building’s aesthetic while also fulfilling their commitment to economic development. Further, one of Rutherford Town Revitalization’s primary goals is to “make downtown the place for fostering entrepreneurs, business retention, and recruiting independently owned businesses.” To achieve the goals of the town’s revitalization arm, and to keep their commitment to advancing economic opportunities for businesses, the town council elected to reduce the sale price from the appraised price of $264,000 to $100,000. Mayor Jimmy Dancy said of the project, “how exciting to see what was the town's Public Works building be bought and transformed into the Copper Penny Grill Rutherfordton. Transformation of property such as this building to a vibrant business enterprise is vital to the future of our wonderful town.”

The December 2017 Offer to Purchase and Contract states that “the Town is only willing and able to accept this offer at such price due to the added tax revenue that will be generated for the town by placing the Property in private ownership for the operation of a commercial enterprise,” and goes on to introduce stipulations to the purchase. Development terms of the property include: investing a minimum of $200,000 in the renovation, keeping the parking lot available for the public, and developing a full service restaurant like the one proposed by Paul and Shelly Gref.

Rendering of proposal submitted to town council by The Copper Penny team

After the sale was complete, the Appling and Gref team worked seamlessly to complete the project according to the proposal they set before council, with some great original touches. This project has successfully re-purposed the old public works building into an attractive and modern full service restaurant, with décor and accents that pay homage to its former use, but creates a new community space that can be appreciated for years to come. “Our community must focus on making sure that local business investments are successful by committing our faithfulness in support of these ventures,” Jimmy Dancy said. “We welcome Copper Penny and look forward to working with other potential businesses in becoming a part of this historical community.”

"We are excited to be in Rutherfordton," Shelly Gref said of the opening. And of the capacity to be a catalyst for growth and for downtown revitalization: "We see the same type of growth in the town that we saw when we opened in Forest City." Ken Appling shared that same enthusiasm, saying "I wanted to do something in the town of Rutherfordton that would impact the entire town. That's why this project meant so much to me from the start, and exactly why I chose the building."

The Copper Penny during the friends and family sneak peek Wednesday, December 5