It seems like we were just interviewing Chop’s Deli co-owner Brad Corpening about their latest set of Best Of awards from 2018’s poll. Chop’s (also owned by Chris Graham) continuously wins encore’s Best Sandwich, Best Soup and Best Lunch on our readers’ poll year after year after year. Barely three months later, news has spread like wildfire of the beloved sandwich shop and its sister eateries being on the verge of closing for good.
All locations (the sandwich shops downtown and in Monkey Junction, as well as the diner in Castle Hayne and the Wrightsville Beach restaurant location) face closure due to what Corpening calls reaching “the tipping point” of debt consolidation he and his partner made last fall. “The repayment schedule for the loan, which we took out for that purpose, proved to be more of a burden than we had foreseen,” he explains to encore.
Moreover, they’ve fallen behind in sales tax payments to the state. Corpening and Graham must now show the N.C. Department of Revenue they are financially viable by Wednesday.
On Saturday Joan Childress Wilkerson, a former employee and friend of Corpening, set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise $100,000 in a matter of days. Yesterday, they had raised $3,000 and today they’re up to a little over $8,000, with about 24 hours left to meet their goal.
“I had an amazing time during my tenure [at Chop’s,]” Wilkerson says. “But, ultimately, the reason for the GoFundMe and the efforts are because of my friendship with Brad and the impact I’ve seen the deli have on the community I love so much.”
Monies raised will be returned if the goal is not met, according the GoFundMe page, but some folks have expressed their skepticism of what they perceive as a “bail out” for the business. Nevertheless, a cause is only as important as an individual deems it.
“Some people really, really love Chop’s sandwiches,” Wilkerson explains. “Others appreciate the friend that they’ve made in Brad over the past nine years. Others remember the amazing efforts he’s made for several years raising money through Mustaches for Kids.”
Not only are individuals donating to the GoFundMe campaign, local small businesses are showing support as well. Freaker is coming up with a new Chop’s design with 100 percent of proceeds going to the downtown location.
“Is Chop’s going out of business different than any other restaurant going out of business?” she asks rhetorically. “Well, technically, no. But it is to me. . . . Once you order your first Chop’s sandwich, as long as you love it as much as there is love in it, you’re in the Chop’s family. It’s a big family. Let’s keep it alive.”
Though all of this seemingly came out of nowhere for devotees of Chop’s, it’s not necessarily a sudden development for Corpening.”While the current finality of everything is a new development,” he clarifies, “this is a symptom of the broader problem of expanding too quickly, and without an organized plan or proper support, and then retaining ill-advised debt to try and cover the gaps. It’s not a sustainable practice.”
If they don’t meet their goal, which would go toward saving one or two establishments, whether Corpening would try to reopen any down the road remains unknown. “It’s a question I’m not sure how to answer,” he confirms. “At the point of closure, our options become significantly limited, so it will probably be very difficult to reopen any locations. Right now we’re focusing on trying to stay open. I guess we’ll cross the other bridge if we come to it.”
Since news broke of Chop’s troubling times, all locations have remained open. In fact, the downtown spot ran out of food and closed two hours early on Monday, June 18, due to overwhelming support. They’ll be open Tuesday, June 19, if for nothing more than a final sammie and side of mac ‘n’ cheese—unless the final hail, Mary, comes through and they meet the $100,000 goal. While Corpening acknowledges it’s a tall order to ask of folks, he says they’ll “be making some drastic changes to restructure the business.” He wants to move it in a more sustainable direction. He’s also not without culpability.
“It’s quite a mess I’ve made,” he notes, “but we’re going to keep pushing until the bitter end.”