Steakhouses come and go in Mount Airy — two chains have closed down their local restaurants in recent years — but one locally-owned steakhouse continues to be packed with loyal customers day after day.
Not that there were not some naysayers when Angie Venable, Ellie Needham, Opie Newman, Andy Reece and Freddy Hudson opened 13 Bones nine years ago, on March 31, 2009. Some people weren’t sure what the name meant (a full rack of ribs has 13 bones). Others made sport of the restaurant’s unusually large number of owners, calling it “13 owners.”
There are, in fact, not 13, but five owners of 13 Bones, among them an “Andy” and an “Opie,” which is not very surprising in a town that considers itself the real-life Mayberry. It should have been clear to any possible naysayers that the five owners were adept at working together, when only five weeks from the day they signed the lease on their location, they had completed the renovations that converted a Pizza Inn into a steakhouse and were open for business.
“When it comes to the nitty gritty crunch time, we get it done,” said Ellie Needham, who spoke to Mayberry magazine with co-owner Angie Venable.
“The five of us brought different talents to the table, different skills,” said Needham. The five owners range in age from 35 to 55 and were all friends before they went into business together.
“Some of us had some background in the business, some didn’t,” said Needham, “but it made sense.”
With different skill sets and areas of expertise, the owners have divided up duties and times, and they don’t often all get together. “Group text,” said Needham, when asked how they manage their restaurant. “Three votes, and it’s a “go” or a “no.” Then you walk away and you’re not mad.”
This no-drama management style extends to the staff, which both Needham and Venable credit with being one of the keys to their continued success. “Hands down, we have the best staff and the best customers,” said Venable.
In fact, this easy-going atmosphere led to one of the restaurant’s few failures. “We were actually approached by a reality show,” said Venable. “I don’t want to say which one, but it was on a national network. All of the employees signed waivers.”
But after the trial period was up, 13 Bones was denied a slot on the show. “Not enough drama,” said Venable.
There weren’t enough dropped plates, added Needham, and when there was one, everybody just worked together, cleaned up the mess and moved on. “They wanted us to argue about it, but we didn’t have time. We had customers to serve.”
A dedication to serving the local community also sets 13 Bones apart. “We want to give back to the community,” said Venable. “It’s been a goal since Day One. Every Thanksgiving the restaurant partners with Mt. Airy Meat Center to serve between 1,300 and 1,500 free dinners to anybody who needs a meal. In addition to the people who eat in the restaurant that day, tickets are provided to agencies with a need. Social services, hospice, dialysis and the Salvation Army arrange for takeout meals to be delivered.”
An annual benefit is done for ALS and the Surry Cancer Awareness Team, said Venable. And all of the schools, or any school that asks, she amended.
The restaurant will be participating in giving a free wedding to a veteran soon. “We’re really excited about that,” said Venable. “Heritage Farm in Dobson is providing the venue, and we’re doing the catering.”
“Nobody can tell us we’ve hit our donation limit,” said Needham, on the advantages of not having a corporate office to answer to.
“We can play by our own rules,” added Venable.
Part of that freedom to make their own rules means serving the kind of food they want to eat. “All of our steaks are hand-cut right here,” said Needham. “They come in on a loin. We cut them, weigh them and season them. All of our steaks. It makes a difference.”
Almost everything we serve is fresh, added Venable. “Even our wings are fresh. Broccoli comes on a head. We cut it.”
“To me,” said Needham, speaking of eating elsewhere, “I usually realize I’ve overpaid for something that came out of a microwave.”
Some first-time customers still have questions about the restaurant’s name. “But if you’re a real rib connoisseur, you know,” said Needham. She credits owner Andy Reece with coming up with the name.
So, if a full rack of ribs has 13 bones, how many bones are in a half-rack? Six or seven? “Depends on who’s cooking,” laughs Needham.
“When they’re literally falling off the bone…” adds Venable.
The dedication of 13 Bones to good service, good food and community involvement has paid off with a level of customer loyalty that simultaneously inspires and amazes Venable and Needham.
“Some of our customers bring every single employee a gift at Christmas,” said Needham. (There are more than 50 employees, 10 of whom have been there since the beginning.)
“Some customers eat here every day,” said Needham. Some people eat two meals a day with us. She has been known to join them at another restaurant on Monday when 13 Bones is closed. “We have made so many relationships.”
“If someone isn’t here for a few days, a server will know what’s going on with them, or someone will find out,“ said Needham.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” said Venable. “We have been so blessed. People seem to fall in our lap at exactly the right time.”
Needham agrees they have been blessed. She offers an invitation to people who prefer the familiarity of chain restaurants, “If you ever decide to walk on the wild side and want to try something local, give us a try.”
13 Bones is located at 502 S Andy Griffith Pkwy., Mount Airy, NC 27030. Hours are: Tues. -Thurs. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. | Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. | Sun. 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. Call 336-786-1313 for takeout or catering. https://eat13bones.com/
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.