By Pete Zamplas
Hendersonville – Flat Rock Pizza is the latest local business casualty of the pandemic and statewide limits on business, closing this past weekend after more than a dozen years as a popular eatery and fervent supporter of civic groups.
The restaurant is at 712 Upward Road, just northwest of the I-26 interchange. The mother-daughter team of owner Jeannie Honeycutt and her sole child, daughter Allie Beddingfield, run the restaurant. Their last day in business was Halloween, on Saturday.
This civic-minded duo hosted benefit meals on Thursdays. They still as usual will put on a free Thanksgiving meal 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on November 26th, Thanksgiving Day, for those in need. Jeannie said, “We’re going to stand by that commitment.”
Rather than having dining indoors as before, dining tables will likely be set up outside such as in the parking lot, weather permitting. There will definitely be drive-through pickup of meals. The meal choice is either turkey and mashed potatoes or pizza and salad. Jeannie, who beat drug addiction twenty years ago, has ministries bring the holiday meals and invites ministers on site for optional consultation.
Back on Track Addiction Ministry will pick up and deliver 150 meals, Jeannie said, while 100 more are due from Helping Heart Ministries in Arden. These are return favors. Jeannie said that for years, “I’ve donated pizzas to ministry—even through the pandemic.”
Stifling State Rules
With deep cleanings and spreading out tables, “we followed the guidelines to keep people safe,” Jeannie said. They changed the restaurant format to fit evolving state COVID-19 guidelines, going from drive-through and take-out only to reopening indoor dining in early July.
Restaurants can have up to half of usual seating capacity. That capped the crowd at 65 people in Flat Rock Pizza at a time, since indoor dining resumed May 22nd.
Ultimately, fewer people inside using the Flat Rock Pizza’s popular pizza/salad bar was dooming, Jeannie said. “We did a third of what we normally do” at the salad bar, with staff serving what customers select. “It was not feasible to stay open,” she further told The Tribune. Once state regulations prohibited a self-serve salad bar, an estimated 90% of seasonal resident customers stopped coming to Flat Rock Pizza, Allie said. “It certainly impacted our business.”
A costly result was “too much waste” of leftover food at the pizza/salad bar. Yet when only two pizzas were there, many customers saw that then went back out without ordering. They bolted before workers could offer to make a pizza of their choice, which would be ready in seven minutes.
Serving Buffet Food
A costly initial move was “we tore out the buffet,” Allie said. She said her mother “built a new (“back-fed”) one — cafeteria style, to take safety precautions. She spent a lot of time and money.” It had a glass barrier against germs. But “it takes several workers to run the buffet,” adding to labor costs, Allie said. So after a month and a half, in mid-September, the pizza bar was shut down. Pizza-salad combo specials kicked in. The buffet had pizza, calzones, pasta, soup, salad, and dessert. Early on, fountain drinks shut down.
Jeannie and Allie each studied at East Henderson, and thus they did benefits for EHHS cheerleaders. Jeannie graduated from Grace Christian, and Allie from Balfour Education Center.
They also fed the homeless, law officers, and first responders, and they did food benefits for such groups as Shriners’ Hospitals, First Contact’s Addiction Ministries, and Pardee Hospital Foundation’s Women Helping Women. “We care about community and about family,” Jeannie stated.
The site is across Upward Road from McDonald’s. It was a Norm’s Minit Mart. Pizza Inn sprung up here, twenty-one years ago. Jeannie renamed it Flat Rock Pizza in 2006, when she bought the business where she worked.
Next Life Phases
What is next for Jeannie and Allie? Allie is studying to become a pediatric nurse. Her first child, son Briar, is three months old. Recently, she had Briar in a pouch slung from her chest while making pizza dough.
Jeannie said, “I don’t have plans right now.” She will follow “whatever the Lord’s willing for me to do—whatever door opens.”
Relatives are storing the restaurant equipment in a tractor trailer, so she could reenter the pizza business. Jeannie has been hands-on, Allie said. “She did it all at the beginning. She was new into recovery. She had just got custody of me again. I was eleven, with a huge attitude. She worked her way up the food chain” to become owner.
Even now, Allie said, Jeannie “doesn’t really ever stop. When she had the addiction, her drug of choice was speed. She was always going.” Years later on days off “she’s busy cleaning her house or car or the restaurant after hours. She’s programmed go-go-go.”
Jeannie told The Tribune that “I almost lost my life” to drugs. “Then God saved my life. I went to work at Pizza Inn.” Its owner, Keith Cartagine, “gave me a chance. He encouraged me.” In turn, “I want to believe in those who are struggling or have struggled.”
Allie said her mother, though perpetually busy, was a guiding and calming force at work, and so “positive and patient. “Whenever we’re freaking out in a huge food rush, she’s calming everyone down. She’ll go at each problem head-on.”
Allie said, “We’re going to miss all of our customers—especially the sweet lil’ elderly ones.”