Closed restaurant feeds Betsy Johnson Hospital workers

Hotdog and Hamburger Haven turns extra food into labor of love

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Brenda Pope worked at Betsy Johnson Hospital for nearly three decades, many of them spent in labor and delivery. She knows how hard doctors and nurses work and she knows their options at the hospital cafeteria are limited.

So on Tuesday, the former nurse-turned restaurant manager pattied out some hamburgers as her cousin tore lettuce inside an otherwise vacant Hotdog and Hamburger Haven. They were preparing meals for about 100 people at the hospital. It was Pope’s biggest one-time order yet — all delivered free of charge.

“It’s just something that I can do for the community,” Pope said. “I worked at the hospital for 28 years so the health field is a love of mine.”

The family restaurant has been a love, too, ever since she bought the business from her uncle in January 2019. But the customers aren’t coming anymore. They can’t come after the governor issued an order last week that closed bars and restaurants to dine-in customers in an effort to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

Pope said they tried takeout, but didn’t earn enough to keep it going. She had to let the servers go.

Helping the hospital with food she would rather not see go to waste was an easy decision to make.

“We’ve got to look out for each other,” said Pope’s husband, Ronnie Pope, before she sent him on a supply run for a loaf of bread.

“Get two loaves, if you can find them,” she told him.

“Bread has been hard to find,” she added.

Hot dogs have also been selling fast, according to Darrell Woodard, the restaurant’s Carolina Packers dealer, who dropped in to check on Haven’s supply Tuesday.

The Smithfield-based company is the last major hot dog dealer in the state, providing the original southern red Bright Leaf dog that the company says “has been often imitated but never duplicated.”

Carolina Packers Inc. delivers to restaurants and grocery stores throughout the area. Even though many restaurants have scaled back services or closed, Woodard says they’ve been very busy.

“With a hurricane, we usually get caught up and back to normal after a few days,” Woodard said. “But I don’t think we’ll ever be normal again, not after this. We’ll have to get used to a new normal.”

Ronnie Pope lucked up and returned to the restaurant with three loaves of bread.

The meal prep was in full swing in the kitchen as a tray of macaroni and cheese bubbled in a nearby oven a little before 10 a.m.

Brenda Pope and her cousin, Belinda Cox, were busy making hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue, fried chicken and the diner’s signature sandwich, the Haven burger. Empty Domino’s carrier bags sat on the counter awaiting their first delivery.

Domino’s is letting us use their bags to deliver the food, said Ronnie Pope. Tuesday’s labor of love was a community effort at the Haven.

“Everybody here should pull together at this time and look out for each other,” he said.

As of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Ronnie Pope said they were also able to feed the workers at Dunn Emergency Services.

Reach Emily Weaver at eweaver@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2028.

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