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Catawba County restaurant changes owners after 40 years but keeps the same name

If Dick Hewitt isn’t at the end seat at the bar of his cafe, his regulars notice.

He’s there daily, on the same worn, black vinyl-covered stool, watching over staff and chatting with customers of Dick’s Cafe on North Main Avenue, right between Newton and Conover. If Hewitt’s seat is taken when he walks into the small dining room, customers move out of the seat just for him.

For 40 years, Hewitt spent his days running the restaurant, which he touts as serving the best grits in town. Monday, the day he turned 84, he announced his retirement. It’s common sense, he said.

“I can’t do a lot of things like I used to, as far as the cafe,” Hewitt said.

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Dick's Cafe
Dick Hewitt cooks at Dick's Cafe in a 2017 photo posted to the restaurant's Facebook page.

He couldn’t leave the business to just anyone. There were several people interested in buying it, but Hewitt only had eyes for one: Cherie Fish, the cafe’s manager.

Fish has been working at Dick’s Cafe on and off for about three decades, she said. She washed dishes, worked the kitchen or picked up serving shifts when she needed extra cash.

Hewitt, who bought the cafe in 1981 with no experience in restaurants, was always looking for people who he could rely on. From her start, Fish was one of them. For years, Hewitt tried to get her to work for him full-time.

“I couldn’t get her to come on full-time at first,” he said. “I kept begging her to give it a try here. I said, ‘You’re going to make more money here.’”

Eight years ago she started serving and didn’t leave. Eventually, she moved up to manager, to Hewitt’s delight.

“It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Hewitt said. “I couldn’t imagine the place without her.”

For Hewitt, the cafe has always been just about business. He bought it after he was laid off from a furniture factory. Hewitt thought he would hire the right people to run the kitchen, manage the wait staff and he would handle the rest.

Over the years Hewitt learned he’d have to do more, eventually learning to do every role in the cafe.

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Dick's Cafe
A sign celebrating 40 years of business for Dick's Cafe in Catawba County is seen in a photo posted to the restaurant's Facebook page.

“I had to learn to cook, and I didn’t even know how to fry an egg,” he said. “After a while, I figured out how to do everything.”

When Fish started, Hewitt knew he had someone he could rely on. She started taking care of the cafe’s image — sprucing it up, adding decorations and refreshing the paint.

Fish cares about the restaurant and its customers in a different way, Hewitt said. Fish knows everyone’s name and story.

“I view the cafe as a job. She views it as a family,” Hewitt said. “When these people come in here, they’re not customers, they’re family. It amazes me how much she knows about these people.”

Most of the cafe’s customers come every day, sometimes twice a day, Fish said. When someone doesn’t come in for a few days, Fish worries, and calls friends and family to check in.

Because of those connections, working the cafe never really feels like work, Fish said.

That love for the place is why Hewitt wanted her to take over. Fish plans to keep the cafe’s name the same.

Hewitt told customers and friends Monday that he was retiring and Fish is buying the restaurant, but Hewitt will still be around. Fish will always find a way for him to keep helping out at the cafe.

“Dick’s been a great mentor to me, a great boss and a great friend,” she said. “He’s always told me he’ll stand by me.”

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