When Robin Burnum relocated from Rhode Island to Hope Mills eight years ago, she’d never worked in a restaurant or experienced life in a small Southern town.
But operating her own restaurant was something that had been on her bucket list. After her mother passed away in 2010 and left her some money, she headed South toward Fort Bragg, where her brother was stationed.
“I was driving through Hope Mills while I was visiting and I saw a for rent sign,’’ she said. It was on the restaurant on Main Street in Hope Mills formerly known as Big John’s.
Burnum decided to take a leap of faith and opened Robin’s on Main. “All of it is a challenge,’’ she said. “Every day’s a challenge, just learning how to cook Southern. That was a big challenge.’’
She said it took her about a year to learn the ins and outs of preparing Southern favorites like grits and biscuits. She took tips from her helpful customers who showed her how to do it.
Those same familiar customers became the heart and soul of her business, everyday folks she said she would be lost without.
She’s currently open Tuesday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m., Saturdays from 6 a.m.-1 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
Beginning April 3, those hours will change. From Thursday through Saturday, her hours will be extended until 7 p.m.
That’s because of the long-awaited return of Hope Mills Lake, which Burnum has never experienced. When she arrived in town, the lake had disappeared for a second time when the repaired dam failed.
“It’s a beautiful lake,’’ she said. “People tell me I’m going to be extremely busy.’’
That’s not surprising, lake or no lake, with the offerings Burnum features on her menu.
A breakfast favorite at Robin’s on Main is something called the Fried Pan Pileup. It includes home fries with egg, cheese, bacon, peppers and onions, topped with sausage gravy and piled into a single bowl.
With the coming extended hours, Burnum is planning some menu changes.
A new dinner staple will be mashed potatoes, corn and chicken or steak with gravy for dinner. On Saturdays she’ll offer T-bone or ribeye steaks.
But Burnum isn’t just about making a profit for herself. She also gives back to the community during the holiday season.
On Christmas Eve she offers a free meal to first responders, including police, fire and emergency medical personnel. From 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. they can dine on a buffet that includes prime rib and shrimp among other delicacies.
On Thanksgiving, she opens her doors to provide free meals to the homeless and others down on their luck. “It’s for anybody that needs a meal,’’ she said.
At the moment, the person most in need of help may be Burnum herself. The building her restaurant calls home is old and in need of remodeling. Her grill recently went out, and as of this writing she’s been closed a little over a week waiting for it to be replaced. By the time this story is published, she hopes to be back in business with a new grill.
“I believe I’ll be okay,’’ she said of her regulars. “I’ve reached out to my locals and told them I’m closed.’’
Part of the reason she thinks she’ll be fine is the nature of Hope Mills.
“It reminds me of the ‘Andy Griffith Show,’’’ she said. “Mayberry. It’s a small town, and I believe everybody sticks together and is willing to help each other.’’
Photo: Robin Burnum