Jane Phillips: Was Kinston the first city to offer fast food breakfast?
Kinston has always provided good eating for its people with wonderful places to dine.
In recent years, Kinston has become a culinary destination for people from all over the country to come and dine at the Chef and the Farmer. But for many years before this phenomenon, we have had diners from throughout Eastern North Carolina to travel to eat in Kinston for barbecue at King’s Restaurant and awesome seafood at the Sandpiper.
In past generations during tobacco selling season in Kinston — known then as the world’s foremost tobacco market — was a small-town country restaurant known as Pully’s Barbecue. The farmers from far and wide found it to be a favorite place to eat.
Then there are those special tastes treats that folks have come to love, such as Lovick’s Café with its doughburger, Byrd’s Restaurant and its famous million dollar biscuit and King’s Restaurant with its pig in a pup.
All those tasty treats have been featured in Our State Magazine. But thanks to a man named Ray Goad, Kinston has claim to being the first fast food restaurant in America to serve breakfast. When Goad was born one of 11 children near Mount Airy in 1922 his family had no idea that he would one day make history with his restaurants and innovative ideas.
One of those ideas would become a reality in Kinston.
Ray played in the same schoolyard as did a young Andy Griffith. During the heart of the depression, he worked for 10 cents a day setting pins in a bowling alley. He quit school and traveled the country working from carnivals to riding a coal truck. When the war came, he found himself married and in the army.
After the war, Goad and his wife Geneva opened their first restaurant, Ray’s Midway on old Highway 52 in Pinnacle, midway between Winston-Salem and Mount Airy. Then came Ray’s Starlight Restaurant in Mount Airy, and the Ray’s Kingburger and Sweet Sue’s chains followed.
The restaurants were very successful and spread across North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina. About a year ago, Kinston city employee Donna Kennedy received a phone call from Ray Goad Jr. inquiring about when Ray’s Kingburger Restaurant was in Kinston.
He was looking for any information he could find about it and Donna contacted me. In turn, I began an e-mail correspondence with him. I put his story on Facebook and I got some interesting posts about the time Ray’s opened. In the early 1970s, Goad decided to spread his fast food Ray’s Kingburger chain into ENC.
Hardee’s and MacDonald’s, already well established, were his competition. For the first time, he spread into ENC and selected four towns to open Ray’s Kingburger with Kinston as one of those locations. The burgers were a good bit better than those at McDonalds, Burger King and Hardee’s.
As I recall the Ray’s Kingburger was delicious and huge. John Nix remembers his father buying three and it fed their six-member family.
In 1972, there was not a single McDonald’s, Burger King or Hardee’s that was open for breakfast. Goad pioneered the concept by opening for breakfast his several dozen Ray’s Kingburger restaurants across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.
The first attempt came in Kinston in 1973. It was an instant success, so all Ray’s Kingburger restaurants began offering breakfast, the first hamburger chain to do so.
It worked so well all the others soon copied Ray’s breakfast menu. He featured Ray’s country ham and the homemade from scratch southern biscuits that his mother started making at one of his first restaurants, Ray’s Starlight Restaurant, in Mount Airy.
It was a success and from that point on, most fast food restaurants opened earlier and started serving breakfast. According to Lenoir County tax records, the Kinston Kingburger Restaurant opened in 1973 in the 100 block of East Vernon Avenue. Later, it became Supreme Deli and today it is Jesse Bell’s Soul Food.
As a young woman, Karen McConkey, a former Free Press reporter and city editor, was among the first to work there on the morning shift. Teresa Hall Garner recalls when she was younger that at lunch time, she and friends often walked from Grainger High School to Ray’s for lunch.
It is believed that Goad was the first to contract with NASCAR racing legend Richard Petty for his endorsements and promotional appearances, both on radio and television, and in person at Ray’s locations. I recall Petty came to Kinston for an appearance at Rays.
Today, all that is left of the Goad businesses is Ray’s Country Ham. It is sold in grocery stores around the country.
Goad was kind enough to send me two packages. You can’t eat at a Ray’s Kingburger restaurant today, but you can find a sausage or ham biscuit at any fast food restaurant a few blocks from your home all across the USA. Ray Goad was a true fast food pioneer.
Sources for this story include: The Ray Goad Story, Ray Goad obituary (Mount Airy), Ray Goad Jr., John Nix, Karen McConkey and Teresa Hall Gardner.