By Lee Noles
MONROE – After operating several, and successful, market-style shops throughout the Charlotte area over the past 17 years, Union County native Blake Barnes wanted his idea of a modern twist on general stores to find its way to his childhood home.
Barnes opened the East Frank Superette and Kitchen six months ago. Since the launch, the establishment has become a popular meeting place for people from all walks-of-life as lawyers and doctors alongside college students and local artists visit the bustling establishment.
“It’s been great,” Barnes said. “I have been able to reconnect with old friends, and I love a challenge.”
The idea now is to take it one step further by opening the kitchen in October.
Co-owner Carley Englander said the intention was to have the cooking area ready for the official kickoff this past March, but the shop’s popularity had the owners too busy to achieve the goal.
“We decided to just bite the bullet and go for it,” Englander said of taking on opening the kitchen and managing the popular shop at the same time.
The store certainly lives up to the market-style side of its business concept by offering combinations of major brand sodas, snacks and alcoholic beverages as well as lesser-known local brands. Once a patron walks inside, however, the generalities usually found in convenience stores are not there.
Walls are covered in purple and red. Nooks and corners display unique features like a sequined-covered Elvis picture matted to a wooden log. An assortment of marionettes and toys, including likenesses of Pee-Wee Herman and Steve Urkel, sit on shelves in a soda fountain-style area.
Englander, who worked with Barnes in Charlotte, said 95% of the wall’s decorations, including painted pictures of animals dressed in Shakespearean-style clothing, came from thrift stores and flea markets. Customers supplied the rest of the decorum.
Chress Barnes’ favorite knickknack is a set of painted “Star Trek” plates with characters from various reincarnations of the science fiction show. She got the collectible when Barnes was helping a friend load boxes of school supplies and found out she was getting rid of the plates.
“I was like ‘Oh, no you are not,’” said Chress Barnes, who is not only co-owner of East Frank but also Blake’s wife. “They have been in your place for five years waiting for this place and for me to glue them up on our walls.’”
Englander, whose husband, Robert Huffman, also co-owns the shop, is bringing the Southern-style cooking she developed at the Charlotte stores to Monroe.
For lunch, customers can choose from an assortment of wraps and foot-longs that suit both meat-eaters and vegetarians.
One such concoction is what the menu describes as The Big Ugly Baby Meatloaf sandwich, which has sliced meatloaf topped with Swiss and caramelized smoked onions with gochujang ketchup on Texas toast.
For people who want only vegetables, then the Hummus Amongst Us may fit their needs. The wrap features wheat berry tabbouleh with banana pepper, kalamata olives, tomato, onions and spinach covered in humus and a house vinaigrette.
“You’ve got to have something for everyone,” Englander said.
Breakfast has the same approach by featuring sausage links and scrambled eggs to go along with wraps that include red cabbage, red onions and spinach.
Lawyer Dana Lehnhardt was at East Frank on a Saturday with her son, Drew. She is excited about what the store has done for Monroe.
“It has a little bit of everything,” Lehnhardt said. “There has never been anything like it in Monroe. It has brought new life to downtown.”
Want to go?
East Frank Superette and Kitchen is open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday at 209 E. Franklin St., Monroe.