‘Something worth supporting’: Rural life lessons fuel entrepreneurial spirit in Bailey

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BAILEY — When Roddie Hancock and Cullen Gurganus started Bailey Cafe, the retirees sought to bolster the economy and offer a local eatery for residents. Ten years later and other entrepreneurs have followed in their footsteps, setting up shop in the rural Nash County community.

“We opened because there weren’t nothing here,” Hancock said. “Since we’ve opened, there is no telling how many people we’ve brought to this town that hadn’t known Bailey even existed.”

In addition to popular dishes like the hearty country breakfast — three eggs, hash browns, country ham, pancakes and bread — and hamburger steak, the 64-year-old entrepreneurer has developed a loyal following for all things sweet. He makes a case full of cakes, chew bread and banana pudding, but the Hancock Special — a deep-fried creamy dessert — is aptly named.

“After preparing a Hancock Special, I’ll walk through the cafe to deliver it to a table and sell three or four more to people who see it and want it,” he said with a grin.

The food isn’t the only draw for out-of-town guests. What started as an impulse purchase of a teapot at a yard sale turned into an ever-growing china collection that covers nearly every wall of the eatery. He said buses full of teapot enthusiasts often file into the cafe, taking pictures of the more than 4,000 teapots ranging from thimble-sized sets to large pitchers, traditional patterns to ornate depictions of presidents and cartoon characters.

And features on Carl White’s “Life in the Carolinas,” “The Tar Heel Traveler” and Our State magazine means the majority of the teapots have been given to the cafe.

“We average two or three new teapots a week. I don’t have to buy them anymore because so many people bring them to me,” he said. “A lady from Roanoke Rapids called me about 150 teapots she had. I asked how much they were and she said it wouldn’t be any cost because she wants the collection to stay together and she knew we’d do that. Oftentimes, when mama and daddy die, their kids will put the stuff in yard sales, but teapots are one of those things that has a big following.”

The teapot collection has lent itself to an unofficial name for the cafe: the Teapot Cafe. As for Hancock, he said he is just proud to offer something to a town instrumental to his life.

“Growing up in the area, it was important to be a civic-oriented person,” he said. “I was taught to support your community, your neighborhood, your local churches and those kinds of organizations, so I’ve done that.”

The menu of Bailey Cafe even has the names of other small businesses offering services from taxes and furniture repair to landscaping and car sales. Visitors to the Country Doctor Museum nearby even get a coupon for Bailey Cafe.

Girls ‘Round Here owner Ben Alford said Bailey was an obvious choice when he and his wife were looking for a space to expand their online boutique.

“The Bailey community totally supports something that is worth supporting,” Alford said. “The support is obvious at any local sporting event. Our first experience was with our kids at Bailey Elementary School and we were blown away with the support the school received from the community. I knew if we opened the store in Bailey that it’d work out because I’d seen the community support firsthand.”

The clothing and accessory business for men, women and children started as an online venture in 2013 with popular products like Simply Southern shirts. Alford said the need for more space was obvious last year and soon the 10,000-square-foot storefront at 6163 Main St. rose to the top of the short list of possible locations.

“We do significantly more business online than in-store, with our largest customer base actually in Texas. We had very little expectation as for business in the storefront, but we’ve just been overwhelmed with the amount of business we’re able to do there,” he said. “We get a lot of people from Wilson, Sims and the Buckhorn area — customer bases we never considered when we opened the store, but we have a ton of business from those areas.

“The store has worked out great for us.”

While Alford is a transplant to the area, he said the small-town environment has definitely been a plus. Meanwhile, Bailey native Emily Cooper said the community feel of her hometown lends itself to the personalized customer service that has been essential to growing her business, Golden Girls Tanning Salon at 6281 Main St.

“Golden Girls is much more of a personalized experience than other tanning salons,” she said. “It is only me, so I know each client by name. Everyone feels like family because they see me and my twins every day.”

The 26-year-old said after a few years working in the fraud department for BB&T, she wanted a change of pace while giving back to her community and spending more time with her 1-year-old sons. Like Girls ‘Round Here, Golden Girls opened in the fall and has seen bustling business.

“At first business was slow, but now I’m pretty slammed,” Cooper said. “I have a lot of people who are so happy I opened in Bailey because driving to Wilson for a 15-minute tan session is a long drive.”

And while Nash native Dr. Alexandria Stone operates her dental practice in Wilson, she said her upbringing has been a strong influence on how she cares for patients.

“Growing up in Stanhope shaped my value system like treating people how I want to be treated and respecting my elders,” she said. “It is different than the big-city lifestyle. I like the slower pace of small towns and that extends to the office.”

Stone bought Dr. Charles Wayne Holland’s practice at 1310 Nash St. after meeting the Wilson dentist at the East Carolina University School of Dentistry.

“We have a slower pace here, so we don’t rush patients in and out,” Stone said. “We are more individualized, taking the time to get to know each patient. It is more of a family atmosphere.”

The 27-year-old is working to grow the practice by building a reputation for quality dental care with an emphasis on care. Similarly, Hancock said he hopes word spreads about the friendly atmosphere of Bailey businesses.

“I’m the face of the restaurant and I love meeting people,” Hancock said. “We had 60,000 people come in the first year we were open. We’d have standing room only with people waiting an hour to get a table. Business has died down lately, but we get a lot of customers who come in all the time and say the quality of our food sets us apart from others.

“Once you eat our fried chicken, you won’t go anywhere else.”