Nestled in the heart of downtown in Lincolnton on the Court Square is City Lunch, a quaint restaurant known for mouthwatering hot dogs and a welcoming wait staff.
For co-owner Angie Kaiser, however, it is more than just a restaurant, but a daily reminder of three generations of family members dedicated to the culinary arts.
According to Kaiser, City Lunch first opened its doors in Lincolnton back in 1934, under the ownership of Abe Huss. It was not until 1957 that her grandmother, Pauline Dellinger, purchased the restaurant from Ernest Engle. Dellinger first joined the City Lunch staff in 1955, working as a waitress.
“My grandmother had always done restaurant work,” Kaiser said. “She worked with them for about two years before she bought it. They were ready to sell, and she was ready to buy.”
Kaiser’s grandparents ran the restaurant for several years until her mother, Lynette, took over running the restaurant.
Kaiser became active in the family business around the age of 12, busing tables.
“We had a rule that you had to start at the bottom and work your way up,” she said.
After graduating from Lincolnton High School, Kaiser went on to Catawba Valley Community College, where she earned her associate’s degree in business, a degree she utilizes on a regular basis as the restaurant’s bookkeeper.
Although she spent the majority of her childhood immersed in the restaurant business, it was not until she turned 22 that Kaiser truly began to hone her cooking skills.
“Growing up, the kids weren’t allowed to go into the kitchen,” she explained. “So, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I really started to develop a knack for cooking…even though I ran into several burnt pots and pans along the way.”
Now, Kaiser and her brother, Brian Greer, have taken over the family restaurant operation.
“About five years ago, my mother’s health started declining, so we decided my brother and I should take over the business,” she said.
Since then, Greer’s wife, Lorna, has also joined the business.
Together, the trio is able effectively share the duties of running a successful restaurant.
“They’re good with the people, and I’m good with the books,” Kaiser laughed.
Despite the trio’s teamwork, a typical day of work at City Lunch is often long and demanding. For Kaiser, work begins at 3 a.m. with the grinding of the coleslaw.
“Nothing ever is pre-made; everything is made fresh daily,” she said.
Once the slaw is prepared, her brother begins preparing the breakfast dishes, averaging 30 dozen eggs each morning, while Kaiser begins prepping for the lunch and dinner rush. While some restaurateurs might consider alternating between cooking the breakfast and lunch menu items, the siblings are very much attached to their designated meal.
“I hate eggs,” she said. “I hate the smell. I don’t eat them, and I don’t like them. And my brother hates to cook dinner; he says there too much to do. So, it worked out for us.”
Doors open to an eager crowd of customers at 5 a.m., with the breakfast services ending at 10:30 a.m. By 11 a.m., Kaiser is ready to serve the lunch crowd, which tends to draw an even larger crowd.
“Hot dogs and fried chicken are our two biggest sellers,” she said. “We’ll make about 700 hotdogs a day.”
After closing at 5:30 p.m., Kaiser and her co-workers head home for a few hours of relaxation and rest before starting another long day at their restaurant.
“It’s definitely a long work day,” she said. “But once it’s in your blood, you really can’t get away from it.”
Unlike some restaurants, City Lunch is unique in that it has never altered its menu.
“We’re comfortable with our menu, and we try to keep it simple,” Kaiser said. “To me, we’re a restaurant that caters to the ultimate comfort foods.”
The restaurant has also managed to keep prices low, despite the less-than-favorable economy over the past several years. A hot dog is only 86 cents, and a cheeseburger runs about $1.35. Customers can purchase a meal, complete with chips and a fountain drink, for just $3.50.
“We’re fortunate in that we don’t have a lot of overhead that other restaurants often have,” Kaiser said. “It’s one of the reasons we can keep our prices so affordable.”
While she enjoys cooking, Kaiser finds the relationships she forms with the customers to be most rewarding.
“The customers are definitely the most reward part of the job,” she said. “Our customers are our best friends. They’re family, to be honest.
“It used to be the same patrons until recently,” Kaiser continued. “It’s a generation place. The kids I grew up with are bringing their kids. We like seeing new faces.”
City Lunch is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, and offers dinner items Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. For more information about this historic dining location, visited “City Lunch Lincolnton NC” on Facebook.