Redbone Alley is a Howling Success
When Dale Barth thought about building a unique restaurant in the pee Dee, one thing kept coming to mind: a childhood visit to Disneyland. There he had joined zillions of other kids on a ride called "Pirates of the Caribbean." He came away thoroughly impressed with its skillful imagery. "It made you think you were somewhere else," he recalled.
Everybody needs a break once in a while, he reasoned. Why not build a restaurant with motif and décor that would convey the diner to another time and place. "Why not build a Southern-style restaurant that would replicate the experience of sidewalk dining amid 19th century buildings in an Old South city like Charleston, Savannah, or New Orleans."
It took raising the roof -- literally -- at the Florence Mall, but Dale Barth built his dream restaurant and named it Redbone Alley. "There are a lot of cookie cutter restaurants" he observes. " We wanted to put folks in a different environment – like another city" explains Barth, who honed his restaurant skills for more than a decade at P.A's Restaurant in Florence. P.A's became an award winning dining spot in the Pee Dee, but Barth wanted more than just accolades – he wanted to do something really special.
And he did. He and his wife traveled to Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans to take photographs of picturesque Southern-style buildings. He hired a construction firm to build realistic replicas of them in the sprawling, empty site vacated by Penney's when the department store moved from the Florence Mall.
First chore: raise the roof to build a tow-story atrium that simulates a night sky. " The only way to feel like you?re outside is to have a big expanse – like sky – over your head," says Barth.
Inside, "sidewalk" tables are placed along brick streets, flanked by two-story Southern-style homes and offices faced with real brick, wrought iron and pastel-colored stucco. The effect when you walk in the door is similar to a night stroll alonog an old Charleston street flanked by sidewalk cafes – but all indoors.
"With a sidewalk café the weather can put you out of business," says Barth, " but not here."
For sure. On a good weekend, 2,500 diners may go through Redbone Alley. The spot is popular not only with Florentines, but also with interstate travelers and residents of numerous surrounding small towns. That's exactly what Barth had hoped. A native of Marion, he understood the drawing power of Florence in the central Pee Dee.
"Folks who live in small towns in the central Pee Dee like to come into Florence to have supper, then go to a movie or visit the mall. And we wanted this restaurant to be a family restaurant – a place where mom and dad can come in and have a nice meal while the kids were entertained."
For kids, Redbone Alley has a colorful play area and a permanently parked ice cream truck where kids armed with house tokens can nab a free ice cream bar. Later in the night, live music is designed to attract singles and younger couples who are also the primary targets of an in-house lounge.
Barth strives to make the food as popular as the unique atmosphere. "Everything you eat in this restaurant – everything – is made from scratch. Even our salad dressings are made here. There's no frozen food at Redbone Alley. Nothing is pre-cooked."
So has everything gone as planned according to Dale Barth's dream" Not quite. He admits to one major surprise: he never expected the restaurant's hound dog logo to be so popular.
Why, one may reasonably ask, would a seasoned restaurateur name a dining spot after a hound dog?
"We were thinking of a name," Barth laughs, " and we thought about our dog – a redboned coon hound. We wanted a name that would be a good identifying logo – something the kids would like and something Southern – so we thought of "Redbone." We also wanted a Charleston alley look - and we have an eight year old daughter named Allie – so we came up with Redbone Alley."
The distinctive, friendly-looking canine cartoon has even launched a line of clothing. The coon dog logo adorns T-shirts, hats, shorts, backpacks, turtlenecks, key rings and beach towels – all for sale at the restaurant.
Given the popularity of Redbone Alley, will Barth try to duplicate his success at another location" Almost every week he gets offers and inquiries from business developers, he says, but he's in no hurry to expand.
However, he admits he's thinking about a Redbone Alley in Myrtle Beach. " In the next couple of years," he predicts, " I'll bet you see another one."
Posted on Fri, June 3, 1994
by Rod Gragg for Pee Dee Magazine