By Meg Hardesty
Norwood Pritchett orders the same meal for lunch almost every day while he sits in the same white plastic chair on the outdoor patio of Seaboard Cafe.
At this point, he doesn’t have to order his old-fashioned chicken salad on whole wheat with Lay’s potato chips and a blueberry lemon muffin. Pritchett is a regular customer at Seaboard Cafe in Raleigh — the staff know his order by heart.
Since 1991, Seaboard Cafe has been located inside Logan’s Garden Shop, a repurposed space in the historic Seaboard Railroad Station. Logan’s sold its property in 2021 with plans to relocate, but without the local cafe.
For many customers, Seaboard Cafe is more than somewhere to eat lunch. It is a gathering place, an adopted family… a second home. As the news broke that Seaboard Cafe would be closing soon, Pritchett and other regulars will lose that sense of community.
A Safe Haven
Pritchett’s wife preceded him as a regular. She ate lunch at Seaboard Cafe multiple times a week for seven years while working for the Wake County Public School System.
He had accompanied her a couple of times before she died in 2007. To honor her memory, Pritchett began to eat lunch frequently at Seaboard Cafe.
“I decided in my mind I was not going to be the kind of person to sit at home and watch television,” Pritchett said. “After losing a loved one, if you turn inward it can be very dangerous.”
Her sacred lunch place became his favorite spot to socialize and get out of the house.
“That was my therapy, to be around other people,” Pritchett said. “While I’m retired and live by myself, it helps quite a lot.”
Seaboard Cafe became Pritchett’s second family, the staff always greeting him by name. Every year on his birthday, the cafe staff celebrates with a song and cupcakes. With the cafe closing soon, Pritchett is sad to abandon his happy place.
“Go crazy and go starve to death is what I’ll do,” Pritchett said. “That’s what our concern is, that we’re all going to starve. I really just might.”
Another regular, Candy Lewis, remembered how she and her mother, Polly Horton, once shopped for flowers at Logan’s in the spring. Stopping inside, the two made a ritual of grabbing one of Seaboard’s homemade muffins.
When Horton was diagnosed with dementia 20 years ago, Seaboard Cafe and its customers became like a big family for them; Lewis called it a home away from home.
“She felt so safe there because everybody was so friendly,” Lewis said. “My mother never forgot that.”
Over the years, people who have frequented Seaboard Cafe have dropped off family pictures and Christmas cards at the restaurant. The cafe’s founder, Richard “Rick” Perales keeps a bulletin board to house these mementos.
“Rick still has the picture of my mother’s 88th birthday we had there up on the bulletin board,” Lewis said. “I look up there every time I go in.”
When Horton died, Lewis found herself in Seaboard Cafe to seek familiarity and a sense of community.
“The thing I like most about it is you feel like you’re sitting on your own home patio,” Lewis said. “You feel like you’re comfortable there.”
Lewis said she tries to limit herself to a maximum of four days at Seaboard’s a week, but it’s hard to stay away from her place of refuge.
Dining until close
Seaboard Cafe has a plethora of regulars — if it’s not for the food, maybe it’s something about the lack of air conditioning.
“For 31 years, there’s been no A/C,” said Michael Evans, another Seaboard Cafe regular. “Ambience, that’s the most important.”
Surrounded by eclectic knickknacks and original paintings from North Carolina artists, Evans frequents the cafe three to four times a week, always on Saturday. Recently, he reconnected with an old friend over Greek and chicken salads at his favorite lunch spot.
Evans had not seen his former co-worker, Corliss Wilson, in over two years. Time escaped the pair in the cafe as they talked for hours.
“He’s gotten to know people who come here daily,” Wilson said about Evans. “I would have never come if not for him.”
For some regulars like Evans, they are guaranteed to see someone they know every time they step foot in the cafe, spending hours catching up. Oftentimes, Evans and his newfound friends are ushered out of the restaurant’s big greenhouse doors when the staff closes up shop — it’s like they never want to leave.
‘Everybody thinks they’re his favorite customer’
When Perales first opened Seaboard Cafe in 1991 in the historic Seaboard Train Station, he did not anticipate his restaurant’s impact. After recovering from alcoholism and sustaining multiple layoffs, Perales thought he would sell hot dogs from a cart.
“All I wanted to do was look people in the eye and make them feel comfortable,” Perales said.
Now, he greets the majority of his customers by name.
“Rick loves people and he makes it evident when you come in the door,” Lewis said. “Everybody thinks they’re his favorite customer.”
Perales built a family by making people feel special. He kept his family by making Seaboard Cafe a home.
The news of Logan’s relocation means that Perales and Seaboard Cafe will not be coming with the garden shop. As of now, the land may be used for up to 20 stories of apartment towers and a parking deck. What was once a historic landmark — and a home away from home for many — will be gone in the property’s future establishment.
“Every day is my favorite day over there,” Lewis said. “It’s going to break my heart. They’re taking away our paradise.”
Edited by Macon Porterfield and Kaitlyn Schmidt