Thompson plans to reopen grill

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Clark Thompson, 70, a native of Saluda who has lived in Pensacola, Fla. since the early 1960s, has posted a hopeful sign in the window of the old Wards Grill:
It says, “To all Saluda residents and visitors. Laissez les bon temps roulez. Let the good times roll.”
Thompson, who has had a passion for restoring old buildings for 38 years, is buying the Wards Grill and Thompsons Store building. He plans to re-open the grill, which closed in March, before Coon Dog Day this July.
“This is the heart of the community,” Thompson said during a visit last Friday. “It is important to the economic and psychological health of the community.”
Thompson said Judy Ward, who ran the store with her late husband Charlie before they sold to Larry and Deborah Jackson in 2007, is a partner with Clark and will come back to run the grill. Clark Thompson and Charlie Ward were cousins.
“She (Judy) is anxious to do it,” he said. “She thinks this is her Mothers Day present.”
The grill seating area will be enlarged, Thompson said, by taking out the wall which divided the grill from the old hardware section. The grill will remain, and a new kitchen will be added to offer a larger variety of prepared foods.
“We will still offer the artery-hardening menu,” Thompson said. “But we will offer some healthier stuff as well. I live on the Gulf Coast, where we have lots of Creole and Cajun foods. I want to bring some of those flavors here.”
Rather than hire a professional chef, Thompson said he thought he could train a “good cook” to be able to handle the bayou dishes he wants to offer.
As for the Thompsons Store side of the building, Clark said he and Judy have been reaching out to the community,’ to see what they might want to see, asking what they think Saluda needs.
“We have been hearing the gamut,” he said. “Some have mentioned the idea of homemade, packaged foods that you can take home and microwave. The meat market will stay. We want to keep the Thompsons Store reputation for good meats.”
Thompson began his working life under the tutelage of the stores original owners, Roy and Lola Ward, who first opened in 1939.
“I made $30 a week, working six days per week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” he recalled. “I would deliver groceries in a pick up truck and restock the shelves. If ever you had nothing else to do, Lola wanted a feather duster in your hand.”
Thompson said he thinks perhaps the upstairs of the building, with a street access staircase, could be renovated for condominium apartments, or perhaps a set of artists studios with common exhibit space.
The upstairs was once boarding rooms for railroad men, and had long since been used only for storage, he said.
The building has some “spongy floors,” and the electric system will need to be replaced. Handicapped access bathrooms will be installed, and a divider wall will be put in place to separate the new grill from the old grocery store area during renovation.
“I want to get the grill open right away, and get some money coming in,” he said.
Across the back of the building, he envisions taking out one window from the old Saluda Masonic Lodge room and putting in a doorway to a balcony with stairs overlooking a renovated courtyard behind.
The old feed barn on the back of the property will be saved and restored, he said.
“I want to fix up this whole back area,” he said.
“This is a blessing for our town,” said Margaret Miller, a Charlestonian who began summering in Saluda in 1992 and has lived there since 1997. “The heartbeat of our town is being restored. And by someone from here, with a heart for the people and a heart for the town.”
Clark Thompson was born in Saluda on a section of Louisiana Avenue, known back then as Diaper Hill. During a period from the 1920s until the early 1940s, there were so many Thompson families hatching kids that there were always several babies in diapers along that stretch of road. When Clark was about 6 years old, his family purchased the old family home, built circa 1893, across from the Saluda Cemetery.
Thompson said his family is related to half of Polk County – the Packs, the Hendersons, Williamses, Feagans, Princes, and Hannons, among others. John Earle of Earles Fort fame was in the line of his great-grandfathers.
Thompson left Saluda to attend N.C. State in 1958 and earned a degree as a textile engineer in 1963. He said he always wanted to go to Florida where his brothers and his father had a construction business. After college, he went to work for Monsanto Co. in Pensacola.
Thompsons wife, Pam, is a retired school principal. They have two sons, one of whom works in the family business and the other in Texas.
In 1972, he started buying old buildings, particularly along the Pensacola waterfront. He has restored and still owns several historic buildings which he leases.
“I never see an old building that I dont lust over,” he said.
According to his website, Thompson-Briggs Developers, Inc. has a 38-year history in downtown Pensacola.
“Our continuing objective is the renovation and restoration of historic properties into Class-A office space in Pensacola,” it says.
But this particular building, back near Diaper Hill, is special to Thompson.
“I want to put the Thompson name back in the brand,” he said.
And bring some creole and Cajun foods to the table as well.
Roy Eargle of Saluda Realty & Construction LLC has agreed to handle the renovations of the building. He has previous experience in historic preservation such as the Saluda Depot, now jointly owned with Thompson, and the Pebbledash building in Saluda. “Roy exhibits an appreciation for quality construction and has those special skills necessary in maintaining the historical integrity of old structures. Im happy to have him assisting in this effort,” Thompson said.


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