The One-Stop Shop
When the U.S. 421 widening threatened his store, local business owner Ray Khan put the "convenience" back in "inconvenience."
Owners of the Pennywise convenience store and gas station on the corner of East King Street and N.C. 105 in Boone, Ray and Karen Khan used the road widening, which thinned his property, to broaden his business.
The store is now home to Sak's Grill, a full-service diner that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with dine-in and drive-through service.
"We had to do some renovation, and we decided to add more options for the people," Khan said. "We made it into a one-stop shop. Get whatever you'd like - come and eat inside, take it out, go through the drive-through, call in."
The drive-through also applies to convenience store items, be it sodas, beer, cigarettes or whatever else, making Pennywise that one-stop shop Khan so desired.
He also desired freshness, and all of Sak's menu items are made fresh to order. "That's our concept - to cook it fresh and serve it fresh," he said.
The menu includes a variety of burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, salads, steak sandwiches and breakfast biscuits, along with plenty of sides, like fries, onion rings, baked potatoes, mushrooms, chili and soup.
"For our breakfast, the biscuits and gravy are made fresh daily, eggs are cracked fresh when customers order them and seasoned if they like," Karen Khan said.
"Our steak sandwiches include a piece of real steak - not chopped up meat," Ray Khan said. "We slice it fresh and cook it fresh."
Customer reaction has been more than positive - it's been mixed with surprise.
"Everybody was surprised," he said. "They looked outside, came in and were all surprised. And to be very honest, our neighbors have thanked us a lot for doing it the way we did. We made this corner look nicer than it ever did."
When the N.C. Department of Transportation approached the Khans concerning their right-of-way easement, they realized the road improvements could be potentially fatal to their business.
"We lost six (gas pumps), so we had to create a layout with certain options, and one of those options was to add some food in order to balance off the revenue," Ray Khan said.
But getting there was no picnic. The gas pumps were out of commission for almost two years, starting in September 2009. The store remained open till October 2010, but without any gas to sell, business was all but gone.
"We had to go through a lot of legal battles to be able to create what we wanted to create," Khan said. "The DOT was not in favor, but after putting 27 years into (our business), we weren't just going to roll over and just say 'goodbye.'"
"It's our business," Karen Khan said. "We started it from a pile of dirt when it was only two lanes on 421. You can't just fold like that."
Their decision was costly, though.
"It was just like being closed, because bills were still coming, the payroll still existed, but accessibility was closed with all the construction outside," Khan said, adding that the store remained close till June this year.
"A loss is a loss," he said. "The loss of land is irreplaceable, but money is replaceable. What we did with whatever we were left with, that's a different story."
The Khans' story with Pennywise dates back to 1984, when they first opened the store. They also owned the Lettuce Leaf restaurant in the Boone Mall, located where Tucker's Restaurant is now.
"We used to have a sub shop inside the convenience store, and people always asked for grilled food," Khan said. "The grill has more to offer than just cold sandwiches ... so, that's why we really decided to go ahead and do that."
The Khans named the diner after the iconic department store, Sak's Fifth Avenue, though Ray said it could have gone in an entirely different direction. "McDonald's made an offer on the place, too, for a restaurant with a gas station," he said.
He maintains that their decision to stay and renovate was beneficial not only for business, but for the community.
"This is a landmark corner," he said. "You want to give a good impression. It's a welcoming place. We're doing something to upgrade the community image, and we didn't cut corners. We did it the right way, and we took the (easement settlement) and put it right back in the community."
For their extensive renovations, the Khans kept it local. "We want to support the local economy, absolutely," Ray Khan said.
In turn, the Khans are happy to see the community supporting Sak's.
"It's basically up to the community to like it, and everybody seems to like it," Ray Khan said. "I do want to thank the community, because a lot of people have shared their hearts to us and showed their sympathies to what we went through, because not being able to do any business for over two years, it's a long period. We're thankful that we're still here and still open for business."
Pennywise and Sak's Grill, located at 450 E. King St., is open Sunday through Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday from 6 a.m. to midnight, Saturday from 7 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For more information, call (828) 264-3098.
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