“A lot of people come just for our biscuits,” he said recently, noting that Sid’s on Main was just about to enter its third year. That a casual dining restaurant can do well in a town comfortable with fast food speaks volumes about how well Canton has supported the restaurant, as well as how this blue-collar paper mill town has changed.
More and more, Sid and Page are serving young professionals (and their families) who work in Asheville but live in Canton because it’s more affordable.
“We see a lot of that,” said Page, who makes the pecan pie and all the restaurant’s desserts.
One diner decided to open her interior decorating business in Canton, Page said, because it costs less to run it there than in Asheville.
“For young families, a starter home here versus a starter home in Asheville? We’re seeing more and more people moving here,” Page said.
Sid’s on Main is in a historic block of buildings in downtown Canton not far from the former Champion plant, now Evergreen Packaging. The restaurant occupies the ground floor of the old Queen Anne-style hotel that former mayor Pat Smathers is renovating.
The Imperial Hotel was built in 1876 as a private home in a sparsely populated area called Pigeon Ford (so named because people could ford across the Pigeon River there). William H. Moore and his wife Rhoda built it at about the same time that the railroad arrived in Pigeon Ford, according to a history the Truesdales provided. In fact, steel railroad track was used as support beams.
Canton didn’t exist at the time; it would not be incorporated for another 17 years. Champion Paper and Fiber Co. arrived in 1903, bringing so many people to Canton that in 1910 W.T. Sharpe bought the house and turned it into a hotel, according to the historical account. He added a four-story tower on the west side of the building and built a three-story brick commercial building next door. Business was so good that Sharpe more than doubled the size of the hotel by adding guest rooms and a larger dining space. Advertised in 1916 as “one of the state’s best two-dollar hotels,” it had about 40 rooms, spacious verandahs and bountiful meals.
The building was a boarding house through the 1930s. In the 1950s, the front part of the hotel was converted into department stores, which remained through the 1970s. Sid remembers them, having grown up in Canton.
He’s been cooking since he was little. “I played basketball (at Pisgah High School) before they had microwaves,” he said, “so when I’d come home after school, I’d fix me something to eat before I went to practice at 5 o’clock.”
He got his first break in cooking after college when he became friends with the late Tom Young at the former Expressions restaurant in Hendersonville.
“He took his time to show me around in the kitchen,” Sid said. “At the time, I was awestruck. I had no technical training. Tom asked me, ‘What do you want to eat?’ I said, ‘I’ll have the special.’ He said, ‘You cook it.’ He showed me, step by step.”
A little more than two years ago, Sid and Page, who is also from Canton, were living in Greenville, S.C. Sid was running a restaurant, and Page was driving to Canton four days a week to help with the family business. They were happy to get the chance to come home and open the restaurant.
“Half the people thought we were nuts, and the other half thought it was a great idea,” Sid said.
Fine dining in Canton – what are you thinking, is what Sid said the doubters thought. The other half welcomed the casual, family dining that he and Page were bringing to town.
“They were happy they didn’t have to drive to Asheville to get good food,” she said.
But it wasn’t as easy for the Truesdales. There were a couple of months at the beginning that drove Sid nuts. Things started turning around for the better in spring 2012, he said. Word of mouth was bringing people in. Now, people come from Canton, Enka-Candler, Waynesville and Maggie Valley. Many are vacationing in the area and read about Sid’s on Yelp and TripAdvisor.
As much as the pecan pie and drop biscuits are bringing in people, so is the building, the Truesdales said.
“The building is what makes this,” Sid said.
“It has so much character,” Page added.