Contemporary Southern cooking, by a couple hometown boys

Published 8:00 am Saturday, April 28, 2018

Brothers to open new restaurant in downtown Tryon

TRYON — Tryon’s Ben and Jeff Sellers are no strangers to working alongside each other behind the stove and prep table of a commercial kitchen.

The brothers both landed their first jobs in the food industry as teenagers at Tryon Estates, with two working their way up the ranks — Jeff as a waiter and Ben as a dishwasher — to wind up together as line chefs in the kitchen.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

After the two moved to Charleston to attend culinary school, the Sellers brothers both ended up cooking at each other’s side again, this time in the kitchen of Denis O’Doherty’s Bluerose Café, a popular American/Irish eatery in the South Carolina city. Jeff and Ben worked together at the business for more than six years before Ben moved back to Tryon in 2012, he said.

Now, reunited in their hometown, the pair plan to combine their culinary talents once again — this time, in a kitchen of their own.

The outside of Harper Eatery & Pub in downtown Tryon.

The Sellers brothers will open the doors to their new restaurant in downtown Tryon, Harper Eatery & Pub, on Wednesday. The business, located in the recently refurbished basement of the historic Missildines building at 10 Oak St., will be open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and for brunch 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Ben and Jeff have created  a menu that consists of dishes the two refer to as “Southern contemporary,” including house-made pimento cheese, served with the customer’s choice of biscuit or soda bread; buttermilk-fried chicken, with a side of mac and cheese and collard greens; and the tried-and-true classic shrimp and grits.

“There’s no bells or whistles on the menu right now,” Jeff said. “Down the line, our daily specials will get more elegant.”

The pair of Tryon natives have talked about opening a restaurant in their hometown for the past two years, at the suggestion of their father. While they had the concept of the menu in their minds for years, it was only in the past year that they found the perfect location for the venture — beneath the old Missildines building in the heart of downtown Tryon.

Over the past several months, the Sellers family has worked to install new kitchen equipment and other furnishings, while contractors finished renovations to the space. In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that new flooring was installed in the basement, which previously only had dirt floors, the brothers said.

The two set out to create a very rustic appearance to the restaurant, which retains its old brick walls, with the Sellers family installing wooden tables, seats and bar. The décor includes an old piano the owners purchased from a family in the area, as well as an old dresser from the 1700s, donated to the restaurant by Tryon commissioner Crys Armbrust, Ben said.

“We want it to look like an old Southern home,” Ben said. “We you come in, you feel like you’re home.”

The name “Harper” refers to the brothers’ great-grandmother, Maude Harper, a legendary figure in the Sellers family who owned a farm in Marion County, South Carolina, the brothers said. For them, the name is a way to pay tribute to the past, as they continue the traditions of great Southern cooking with the small town where they grew up.

“We’re local boys, and proud of it,” Jeff said.

“It means a lot for us to open a restaurant here,” Ben added.

In addition to the food coming out of the restaurant’s kitchen, guests will have a chance to enjoy a drink at the bar. In addition to a wine and a selection of bottled and canned beer, the owners plan to have six craft brews on draft, Ben said.

While the family has poured a lot of time into transforming the old basement into the restaurant they have long dreamed of opening, both Ben and Jeff said they are excited to begin welcoming guests. With the buzz around town about the new restaurant already spreading, the brothers said they are happy to have the chance to add their flavor to Tryon’s rich culinary tradition.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Jeff said. “Once we open, things will be a bit hectic, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”