The Market Place Restaurant
Keeping the customers satisfied with a time-proven menu
By RAY LINVILLE » Photos by DON MCKENZIE
246 Olmstead Blvd., Pinehurst, NC
The 39-year legacy of excellent food and creative recipes keeps The Market Place Restaurant at the forefront of favorite places to dine, for locals as well as visitors to the Sandhills.
In 2004 when Bonnie Black bought the restaurant where she had worked the previous 13 years, she was determined to keep the customers satisfied. She remembers the “old days” when the restaurant was one of the few places to have lunch in Moore County. As she competes now with more than 300 food businesses, she knows her menu is what keeps regular customers coming back and attracts new ones.
“I’ve never taken anything off the original menu,” Black says. “If I did, 99 per cent of the customers would notice―and comment. The only change I’ve made is to add a few items. We always have a special soup, quiche and dessert of the day.”
The gourmet sandwiches and salads keep customers returning to The Market Place. “There’s no comparison of our food with the chains,” Black adds. “We create an elevated dining experience without being ‘fru fru.’”
Not content to serve only the standard Rueben with corn beef and Swiss cheese, the restaurant adds a twist with a “Southern” Rueben: thinly sliced smoked turkey, N.C. green tomato chutney and Swiss cheese. In addition to homemade sauces, popular take-home items include the chicken salad and five-cheese pimento with special spices that add a “kick.”
Several creations in the kitchen preserve the 39-year tradition of flavors, that make The Market Place so celebrated. An enticing herb mix enhances the flavor of butter. The mustard sauce and cole slaw are still made as they were on the first day when the restaurant opened. Even the gazpacho, part of the spring/summer menu, and the Brunswick stew, on the fall/winter menu, haven’t been changed over the years.
The iced tea is The Market Place’s own take on the traditional Southern beverage―it’s spiked with cloves. I can still remember my first glass many years ago and marveling at how it made the restaurant that much more distinctive and complemented the lunch that I was enjoying.
A recent addition to the menu has been gluten-free foods. The restaurant has at least one GF quiche and dessert each day as well as a soup on most days.
Among the extensive gourmet sandwich offerings is the Vegetarian Special that combines melted Swiss, brie, and cheddar cheese (or feta). It’s topped with lettuce, tomato and alfalfa sprouts and seasoned with the restaurant’s own mustard and special herb butter.
Soups such as the mushroom and spinach as well as gazpacho are also popular with vegetarians, who often select the lunch combination of two (soup, salad, sandwich) as do non-vegetarians.
The gourmet coffee served at The Market Place is especially made by Cactus Creek, which roasts a distinctive blend for only the restaurant. Fresh fruit smoothies and lattes are also popular choices. Unusual among the smoothies is the Popeye, made with mango, banana, spinach and mango juice with a hint of jalapeño. Latte flavors range from caramel to Irish cream and can also be ordered sugar-free.
The long-time family operation has included Black’s mother and father, who for many years bought the apples to make desserts. Her sons – Jed, then Luke, and later Eli – have all worked in the restaurant, and husband Kent, a commercial contractor, “is my go-to helper and supporter,” adds Black, who has worked in restaurants in Moore County since she was 19. Her family also has a long connection to the early history of Moore County.
Although two sons have moved on to other occupations, Luke continues as co-manager with Ana Castro, an employee for more than ten years. “She’s like the daughter I never had,” Black says.
Luke has helped his mother retain the regular customers while reaching out to new ones by using social media. She marvels at how many customers now order directly by using the restaurant’s Facebook page as well as its own app and website.
Black has also expanded how customers are served by adding delivery as well as a food truck. “Not Just a Sandwich,” the slogan on the truck, sums up The Market Place, whether ordering online for takeout or delivery, from the truck, or in the restaurant.
Another expansion has been the recent addition of evening hours. Rather than closing after lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the restaurant is now open until 7 p.m. “So far that business has really been good, and we may add more nights,” Black says.
What’s the most popular desert? “The deep-dish apple pie,” she answers with a smile because her mother created the recipe. She also did all the baking at home initially before Black moved the restaurant to Central Park South because the original location on Midland Road didn’t have adequate space for baking.
In addition to catering special events, Black also serves parties, bridal and baby showers, wedding rehearsals and other private activities, and the restaurant can accommodate up to 85. The charming, quiet atmosphere of lunchtime easily changes to a vibrant party scene. The dog-friendly outside courtyard space on the patio complements the inside seating area.
The Market Place opens at 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Near the intersection of NC Hwy 211 and Murdocksville Road, the restaurant is located in Central Park South, the complex of buildings known for architecture inspired by the New England design features of early Pinehurst.
Customer loyalty and the time-proven menu have been Black’s foundation for success. When she has a 39-year legacy of excellent food and creative recipes, why should she change? That she is succeeding where four restaurants consecutively failed, is a testament to Black’s insight and dedication.