Setting the tone: Beloved Canton restaurant celebrates five years
Five years ago, when the Southern Porch opened its doors in Canton, it wasn’t hard to get a parking spot in downtown.
Back then, there were plenty of empty buildings on Main Street, too — a time when Nathan and Michaela Lowe decided to take a chance on a business community that seemed to have run out of those long ago.
“We were one of the few [businesses here five years ago], and we’re really proud of that fact, being able to start that trickle effect that’s helped build downtown Canton,” Nathan said. “And we don’t want to be the only business in town, either. We want this place to grow. We want more people to take a chance — together, we can all succeed.”
Nowadays, a new business pops up along Main Street seemingly every month or so. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a parking spot, where circling the block a couple of times for a space is now the norm.
Housed in the historic former Imperial Hotel (built in 1876), the Southern Porch lies within a structure that’s seen more than its share of economic ups and downs throughout the decades. Crossing into its 150th year, the property faced one of its hardest obstacles just within the last year — the pandemic and shutdown of 2020.
“We’ve always been a blue-collar town, where everybody supports each other — that’s what we love about Canton,” Michaela said. “And people really showed their support for us during the shutdown, all of which justified why we opened this restaurant in the first place.”
During the shutdown, the Southern Porch had to cut its once-robust staff down to a skeleton crew, just enough to keep the lights on — in method to ensure the kitchen was running efficiently, but more so in familiarity to those in passing.
“For most of the folks ordering takeout, we were usually the only other people they saw that day or that week,” Michaela said. “And it meant so much to provide the community with the comfort foods to nourish them in a time of uncertainty and unknowns.”
Before the pandemic, Nathan estimated that the restaurant would go through about 500 wings in a normal week. But, in the midst of the shutdown, that numbered hovered around 2,500 wings per day, and all from takeout.
“It was overwhelming with the number of wings we were selling,” Nathan chuckled. “But, it really put things in perspective that we were doing something not just for us, but for everyone calling in and picking up — it reminded people that we’re here, and here for them.”
The ‘Canton Club’ sandwich.
With five years now in the rearview mirror, the Lowes can’t help but stop and reflect once-in-a-while, the road from the starting line to the here and now, and everything in-between.
“I can’t say it’s any easier than it was in the beginning, but we’ve figured things out,” Nathan said. “And a lot of that is our incredible staff, there’s no way we could have started this business by ourselves.”
“And with our kids, this is where they’ve grown up,” Michaela added. “One of the biggest things recently was seeing a picture of our girls sitting on the front porch of the restaurant when it first opened, and the picture of us on the same front porch during the pandemic — we’ve seen our kids grow from babies to where they are now. So much of this place has been such a big part of their lives, too.”
Aside from a menu of signature dishes and ever-evolving fare, the Southern Porch will once again bring live music to the patio area. With that, the establishment has also started weekly dance classes on Tuesday nights in collaboration with The American Ballroom Company (located just down Main Street), where folks can enjoy a meal, a beverage, and learn to dance (free of charge) under the patio lights of the Southern Porch.
“Everyone who’s coming down for the dancing is loving it,” Michaela said. “For us, it’s about partnering with other businesses. It just makes everything more fun when you can join together with others and do something exciting for the town.”
Within a stone’s throw of the Southern Porch are several new businesses also owned by younger folks (Pink Cactus Salon, Papertown Coffee, Wildflower Blue Bakery), each taking another chance for economic strength in a place that’s starting to turn the page on a new, unwritten chapter of the ongoing story of Papertown.
“A lot of people used to see a ghost town when they rolled through Canton, now more people are seeing opportunity,” Nathan said. “It’s exciting to hear people say, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we had ‘this’ or ‘that’ here.’ People are curious, and they’re hopeful, too — this is a great place to call home.”
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My lunch girls had there weekly lunch there last week and the food was out of this world. It did take awhile to get our meal but we didn’t care. It was just social time. There is so much history in this house. Just wish all could appreciate. Will definitely be back. Would love to know more history on this house. Would love to be able to take tour of entire house.
Thanks for being such a reliable restaurant that I can comfortably send my AIRBNB guests to as well as coming ourselves for 'a meal out' in Canton.
Read Jane Cox's comments...I hope she and her husband give Southern Porch another try. 5 years ago my wife and I had a similar experience, but we tried them again with much better results. It has since become our go to place in Haywood County. They have hired a number of new staff and will work the "bugs out." Writing a place off after one bad experience is a mistake. If I had done that, I would have missed out on many great meals and experiences. I love the restaurant and the owners. Great meeting place for a relaxing evening or afternoon.
My husband and I ate there last night. The food and service was awesome.
Went about 10 days ago. Service HORRIBLE. Took over an hour to get vegetables.... kitchen staff just milling around. Waitress new and couldn't hear what she was saying because of mask and soft-spoken. Had to ask her to speak up. Won't be going back anytime soon.