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From RDU to Rocky Mount, Exploring Rocky Mount's Hidden Gems

Settling into my new apartment in the Lofts of the Rocky Mount Mills was an adventure

unlike any other. With the last of the boxes stacked high, I found myself sitting on

exposed wood floors and gazing out of the towering mill windows. Doubt lingered in my

mind – had I made the right decision? My employer had made it clear: if I was going to

work on community outreach, I needed to be in the community – and commuting in from

Raleigh was not an option if I wanted to take the job at Barnhill Contracting Company.

As I prepared to drift off to sleep on the eve of my first day, my lights suddenly flickered

on, sending me into a panic. Huddled in my bathroom, I called my friends who had

helped with the move and were already on 64 on their way back to Raleigh. They talked

me into facing the intruder – armed with my clothes hangers… only to discover that the

intruder was nothing more than a neighbor accidentally triggering the lights with his

remote that was on the same frequency as mine. It was a moment of laughter and relief,

a quirky introduction to life in the Twin Counties that paved the way for the adventures

to come.

Transitioning from downtown Raleigh to Rocky Mount in 2019 took time. I had been

running a food blog called RDU Gems for a couple of years, where I frequently worked

with James Beard awarded chefs, and taste tested new menu launches around Raleigh,

promoting new businesses, restaurants, and things to do along the way. Initially

skeptical about small-town dining, I soon discovered Rocky Mount’s culinary treasures.

The prevalence of Southern comfort food and the warmth of family-owned eateries

immediately captivated me. Here, hidden gems offer more than just delicious meals –

they share stories and foster connections, reminding us that food is about community as

much as it is about taste.

During the pandemic, we bought a house dangerously close to Chew N Chat Café. As

we’ve put roots down, I’ve expanded RDU Gems to include the Rocky Mount and

Eastern NC footprint, and cover more lifestyle moments between faith, family, food, and

fun. I’ve collaborated with leaders like Kevin McLaughlin, of Larema, and Inez

Ribustello, at On the Square, and the mother-daughter duo at Clair de Lune  - who inspire me to work hard and design intentionally for community building. When I was pregnant with my son, Banks, he was craving El Tapatio’s fresh guacamole every Sunday – spicy, extra lime. And what baby wants, he gets! Lately my husband, Blake, and I have been loving day trips to surrounding areas like Littleton and Little Washington.

Embracing businesses and restaurants in a new area goes far beyond satisfying hunger

or acquiring goods; it’s about fostering a deeper connection to the community. It

requires a sense of curiosity, a willingness to delve into the stories behind each

establishment, to uncover the passions that drive their owners.

In a way, this might be easier for someone like me, fondly called a “transplant” to Rocky

Mount, though I am a native North Carolinian. But I put that challenge back on the locals – Rocky Mount is changing and evolving. It takes time, but there are bright spots and you may need to do a double-take. By actively engaging with local businesses and restaurants, we not only support their growth but also contribute to the vitality of our community. Every restaurant, every shop, is a testament to the dreams and aspirations of those who built them, and by taking the time to learn about their journeys, we gain insight into the heartbeat of our new home.

As I continue to settle into life in Rocky Mount, I find myself grateful for the sense of

community that extends far beyond the dinner table. Our wedding plans took a turn in

September 2020, leading to a beautiful ceremony on the front steps of our new home

that was yet to be furnished, and a backyard reception. Though different from what we

expected, it was a day overflowing with love and the support of our new community, and

it was a special moment to catalyze our time in Rocky Mount. Then, joining Redeemer

Church in 2021 helped us put down roots aligned with our faith and values, along with

our community group.

Without family in town, it’s my new friends and co-workers from this town who showered

my family when we were expecting, brought countless meals postpartum, and meet me

at Bin and Barrel to help me work on my favorite bottle of Saintsbury Chardonnay.

Benefitting from doctors and nurses while delivering at UNC Health Nash and working

with one of the best employers, Barnhill Contracting Company, have further solidified

our ties to this vibrant community. While we are at work, our son Banks is benefitting

from the amazing teachers at Good Shepherd Day School. These healthcare and early childhood professionals, combined with educators, nonprofit leaders, first responders, and local industries, are all foundational to raising up the next generation of Rocky Mount’s leaders.

A new fun project I’ve been working on is a Pop Up at the Rocky Mount Mills – The

Happy Place – where littles and their grown ups will have a bespoke place to go on the

weekends in June to play, join facilitated developmental classes, and connect with other

adults. Since Banks was born I have leaned on community in a whole new way, and I

am excited to see a community grow that will help all families, including working

parents, bond, play, and connect with others. Community building is vital, especially if

we want to keep opening our town to newcomers.

Living in Rocky Mount has taught me that culinary adventure can be found in the most

unexpected places. Flavor knows no bounds, and that the true essence of good

food lies not just in what’s on the plate, but in the stories and traditions that accompany

it. So here’s to the next chapter and new memories waiting to be made. From the

Triangle to the Twin Counties and beyond, may every meal be a celebration of the rich

community that makes our spot in North Carolina truly special. I’m forever grateful that my arm was twisted to come to Rocky Mount - we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Stay in touch:

IG: @RDUGems , @TheHappyPlaceRockyMount

FB: @RDU Gems @TheHappyPlaceRockyMount

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