LUCI WELDON/The Warren Record

Hardware Café staff members proudly display the plaque the business received as the Chamber of Commerce of Warren County’s 2018 Small Business of the Year. Pictured, from the left, are Kelsie Barnette, Liz Morgan, General Manager Haley Paynter and Erin Bankert. Not pictured: Shaun Keesee, Megan Proctor, Erin Erickson and Amanda Richardson.

The Chamber of Commerce of Warren County has named Main Street, Warrenton, restaurant Hardware Café as its 2018 Small Business of the Year.

Housed in the former Miles Hardware, the restaurant looks much as it did years ago, complete with orange exterior paint and original décor, including nail bins. The business looks so much like a hardware store that Chamber President Kathleen Derring, who presented the award,  observed that many people still expect to see items for building sold there, even  after many years in business as a restaurant.

But that’s what makes Hardware Café special in a market where restaurant owners search for ways to make their eateries stand out.

“It’s a unique café,” Derring said. “It’s like going back in history.”

She noted that the restaurant has built a base of loyal customers, and a growing list of people from other areas of North Carolina and other states who stop for a bite to eat when they pass through Warrenton.

One of those loyal customers was Warren County native Haley Paynter, who succeeded Rachel Robertson as general manager in February.

“I’m very glad to be here,” Paynter said. “I’m proud to be part of a great team and business.”

She said that small businesses are dear to her because staff members show that they genuinely care about their customers and are proud of the hard work necessary to make the business enterprise a success.

“It’s special,” Paynter added. “It’s a well-established small business with loyal and supportive customers. I really love our customers.”

Hardware Café offers a range of menu items, including sandwiches, salads, desserts, craft beers, coffees and Friday night dinners. Where else can you ask for a “Hammer” and receive a corned beef sandwich on rye bread?

According to Paynter, the “Hammer” is the most popular hot sandwich, while the “Halter and Bit,” a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato, is the most popular cold sandwich.

Other favorites include the patty melt special,  and prime rib and crab cakes dinner entrees.

However, many people take time to admire the hardware store atmosphere before they place an order. Derring said that customers from out of town still are amazed, including recent visitors from Montana who looked around in awe.

Paynter and the Hardware Café staff are honored by the award recognition.

“It recognizes how much effort we put into customer care,” she said.

She wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.

“I feel extremely blessed to be in the position I’m in,” Paynter said. “I love it here.”

Derring praised the restaurant for maintaining its uniqueness after years in business, and said that all of the staff members work hard to keep it going.

“I was happy to present the award to them,” she said. “I’m very proud of them.”