July 31st, 2019 was just another Wednesday at the General Store for many, including out-of-town visitors and many locals who dropped by for food, drink, or a visit. For us, it was also a day to bid farewell to two of our colleagues, Brayden King, a dishwasher to emulate, a baseball player and fan, college student, and brother of current head chef Brack King; and Marybeth Martin, long-time kitchen and catering chef whose history lives on. Brayden has been with us a short time and is returning to school, and Marybeth is the longest-term keeper of knowledge and staff member the store has had. So on her last day, before she had given her last goodbyes, we sat down to talk to her about her time here. It’s not something that we would do for anyone, but Marybeth worked at the General Store for thirteen years. It was her first job, and she was here longer than owners Jeff Barney and Cameron Ratliff, so her perspective on her own growth, the growth of the store and the growth of Saxapahaw was valuable to record.
Her tenure at the Saxapahaw General Store began when she was just 16, when her mother, a bookkeeper for Jordan Properties, asked the store’s then-manager to give her daughter her first job. It was 2006, and the Jordan family had recently bought this little gas station that many old-timers still call “Poppy’s” and renamed it the Saxapahaw General Store.
The history of the General Store has been the story of Marybeth’s journey. She grew up in this area and remembers when it was just a quiet, sleepy old mill town. She remembers doing volunteer work for school to help upgrade Poppy’s when she was just 10 or 11 years old. When she first started officially at the General Store, she remembers doing her calculus homework in between ringing up customers at the register, struggling to scoop ice cream from an old freezer that over-froze the ice cream and making cheap pizzas on a conveyor belt oven.
When Jeff and Cameron bought the General Store in 2008, Marybeth was about to start college. At school, she would be studying for a degree in graphic design, but at the store, she would discover a creative passion for food.
“Jeff and Cameron came in with an idea and told us a little bit of what they were doing but really, I had no clue as to what they entirely wanted for as a space. They came in right before I went to college, so I was about 18 at the time, so about two years after I’ve been here. It was slow at first to kind of figure out what they were going to start doing. One of our first sandwiches I remember was the mozzarella caprese… we did it on a baguette instead. And we had a Cuban at the time, but we did not have a panini press, we had a brick in the oven covered in tin foil. It was a literal brick and we would put the ciabatta Cuban together and then smash it in the oven under the brick. Literally. Shortly after they came in we ended up getting rid of the weird conveyor belt pizza oven and got some version of the oven we have now.”
“I’ve done a little bit of everything… front of house, dish, kitchen. There was a handful of us, like half to a third of what’s here now. It’s hard to put a number on it’s been so long ago. But, you can remember some of the faces. Jeanne who I started working with my first started here is such a sweet soul… would smoke a lot of cigarettes, had that raspy voice. She had a brain aneurysm while I was in college and passed. It definitely made me really sad. She was such a sweet sweet person. So many people like early on, like Arwen was here at the time. I’ve seen so many people, so many faces come and go and then some of their time here is that long and some of it’s been short.”
Early on in the life of the Saxapahaw General Store, before Saxapahaw became nationally known, everything was closed on Mondays.
“Mondays there was definitely only one person in the kitchen and maybe a dishwasher. I remember being in here by myself on my days literally doing nothing but like cleaning out coolers because there was nothing else to do, which is why eventually we shut the kitchen on Mondays. And we were closed like other restaurants were on Monday. And that’s before The Eddy, any of that was around. So eventually it became known as “Foodless Monday” in Saxapahaw. You couldn’t get food anywhere.
It was also called “Hungry Mondays” which eventually became where we were doing “Pizza Mondays”. And it was just pizzas and salads and then it started evolving into pizza salad and maybe one or two dinner plates as blue plate specials, things like that.”
Chef Mary Beth Martin is a perfectionist, a passionate lover of flavor, food, and the aesthetics of presentation. This includes her hobby of taking pictures of food and nature, whether she’s sampling exquisite sushi, toasting tacos with tequila with her friends, or hiking by the Haw River through the seasons.
She says she is proud of how she has grown as a person, what she’s learned over the years, and she wants to always continue learning. She is proud to have been part of the store’s growth and evolution and pleased to have been part of it all, including the successful move into catering and the store’s ongoing mission to choose and support local vendors as we focus on fresh, wholesome ingredients and offerings. She still calls this village home, and she loves what the store provides for the village community.
“I definitely am proud of myself. For how far that I’ve come and how much I’ve learned, and developed and grown as an adult human over my time here. But I’m also really proud of just what the store itself has become over the years. From your dusty greasy hot dog roller standard gas station, to serving local and organic foods and carrying things from local vendors and local farmers and just the overall growth that we’ve had and what we can provide to the community as a whole because we know we do both sides of it… natural and organic and Coke and Pepsi. And how far like the catering company started in my time here too. And how far that has come. And how far I have come with that as well. Because it’s definitely gone from like baby stage to it is now a fully functioning operation, which is fantastic to see that development and the village, in general, is kind of like that as well. It went from a sleepy town to somewhere that had several businesses, several restaurants. It’s more of a thriving community.”
Marybeth and Brayden, we wish you both well and are grateful for all you’ve given to us. We look forward to learning more as you add new chapters to your life stories!
“As far as long term goals for myself… it’s really just to keep learning. Not only about myself for, but learning more about food, because I didn’t go to culinary school. I went to UNCG and got a graphic design degree with a minor in business. And I’ve just kind of grown up in food through learning from my mom and grandma and then being here and learning so much I’ve taught myself so much. I’ve had great people come through here that have been mentors. I’m hoping in this new situation [at the Pittsboro Roadhouse] to just keep growing and learning and maybe eventually perhaps I don’t know, own my own business somewhere down the road. I mean, there’s no telling how long I’ll be at this next step but I consider it the next step in a journey of still gaining more knowledge. Really, I don’t ever want to stop learning. I think that’s the biggest thing I want to always keep learning something new.”