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Paw-Paw’s expands into old Dixie III restaurant

ASHEBORO — For folks who are fortunate enough to spend quality time with their grandparents, their lives are forever enriched and shaped by those precious moments with them.

For Mitchell Simmons of Randleman, time spent with his grandparents ushered a path and career for him and wife Emily.

The young couple are the owner/operators of two restaurants in Asheboro called “Paw-Paw’s Place.” The businesses are named after Mitchell’s grandfather Mike Key or “Paw Paw.”

Key’s loving wife Janet is “Maw Maw.”

“Paw Paw passed away almost exactly 3 years ago, at the end of this month (of December),” Simmons said, solemnly. 

He is sorely missed by his family, but Paw-Paw’s legacy of serving tasty hamburgers, hot dogs, veggies and desserts, lives on through his grandson.

Mike Key was ‘Paw Paw’ and his wife Janet is ‘Maw Maw.’ Key died three years ago. His grandson, Mitchell Simmons, now owns and operates two Paw-Paw’s Places with his wife Emily after expanding into the old Dixie III restaurant on Dixie Drive.

At the age of 12, a young, industrious Mitchell began washing dishes and cleaning tables in the original Paw-Paw’s Place which opened in July 2007. 

“He lived just down the road from there, and when the restaurant became available, Paw Paw spent his retirement money and opened his own restaurant,” Simmons said.

Key worked in a restaurant for several years in Greensboro before opening Paw-Paw’s Place at the former location of Robin Hood Restaurant on North Fayetteville Street.

Simmons spent many hours and years helping his “Paw Paw” with the important tasks required in the restaurant business. But little did he know at the time he was absorbing skills and lessons that would lead him to follow directly in his grandpa’s footsteps.

“I did whatever he needed me to do,” Simmons said. He worked alongside “Paw Paw” and then alongside his mother, who took over the restaurant when “Paw Paw ‘’ retired.
In the spring of 2019, Simmons purchased the restaurant from her, and he has been owner/operator since.

When asked what he likes about the restaurant business, Simmons said, “It’s exciting.

“There is always something different to do, and there is always a new challenge.”

And you easily learn by talking with Simmons that challenges aren’t something he shies away from.
He believes it is important to serve the community he grew up in, as well as out-of-town visitors who come to this area.

“We get to represent the city and county here, and that always feels good,” he said. “If they stop to eat with us, it may be the only experience a visitor gets from the community, and we want it to be a good one.”

In the business together

His wife Emily, originally from California, feels the same. “It would be nice to be able to support and serve Asheboro for a long time,” she said, “and further the legacy that his grandpa began.”

Mitchell Simmons and his wife Emily.

The young couple met at Hyles-Anderson, a small Christian college in Crown Point, Indiana. “It was fate,” Emily said about their first meeting at a church there. The couple, who have been married for going on six years, chose Randleman as their home.

When asked how she likes living and working in Randolph County compared to her homeplace of California, Emily answered with genuine enthusiasm. “I love North Carolina, and this area. I love how close-knit the community is. I love the seasonal changes and the people, and our customers are awesome.”

She also said she enjoys working in the restaurants because it allowed her the opportunity to meet so many local residents. “I’ve gotten to know the community, and I’ve met so many really good families that I may not have been able to.”

The couple also share the same hopes for the businesses and their livelihood. “I hope to make a good, successful restaurant in the community, and I want it to be a place where people like to come to,” Mitchell said.

“I would love to see it grow, and to continue the familial legacy would be awesome,” Emily said.

Workers needed

But for any business to grow, it must have the staff to support it. Paw-Paw’s Place has felt the sting of the labor shortage plaguing most businesses today.

There is a sign on the door of the Dixie Drive location that kindly asks patrons to have patience with the staff, something that has been asked of us at most eating establishments during the pandemic.

Many Dixie III veterans have returned to work for Paw-Paw's Place, but more help is needed.

“We are fortunate to have a majority of the former staff (of Dixie III) come back, and we are very happy to have them,” Simmons said. “They worked here before, and they’ve all been great.”

But the restaurant remains understaffed which led Simmons to close the original Paw-Paw’s Place early, at 3 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. “Some of that staff then comes over to help (at the Dixie Drive location),” he explained.

And the ongoing need for more employees can begin to take its toll. “We make it work, and for the most part people understand and have been good about it,” he said. “But we are short staffed, and I need a clone because I can’t be at both places at the same time,” he said with a laugh.

At least Simmons is able to find some humor about a difficult situation that many of our local businesses face.

Emily said her husband wakes early in the morning to start work and doesn’t get home until late, and then it’s time to do paperwork. 

“Mitchell is a very hard worker,” she said. 

But so is she. “She does everything,” Mitchell said of Emily lovingly. “She is the other half of the business. She runs the books, does scheduling, staffing interviews, and then anything else that needs to be done.”
For some couples, it might be difficult to work and live together, but for Mitchell and Emily, it isn’t. “We stay so busy, I see her at home more than at work even though we are here at the same time,” Mitchell said.

Emily conveyed working with her husband “is fun.”

“It’s a unique opportunity,” she said. “I wouldn’t get to work so close with him, and I get to see a completely different side of him at work.”

Together, side by side, the husband and wife team make it work because their hopes, dreams and aspirations align. “We want to further the legacy that his (Mitchell’s) grandpa began,” Emily said.

Two restaurants, different schedules

Paw Paws Place #2 at 715 E. Dixie Drive in Asheboro is open Monday-Friday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. for lunch and dinner. 

The drive-thru is not open yet, but once the restaurant is fully staffed, they plan to operate it also.
Paw Paw’s Place #1, located at 2004 N. Fayetteville Street, Asheboro, is open 6 a.m.-3 p.m. for breakfast and lunch.

Both restaurants are hiring waitstaff, cashiers, prep and line cooks. Please visit either location to learn more about these opportunities and until the restaurants are fully staffed, “please be patient with us,” Mitchell kindly asks.

“We want to make this a good, successful restaurant in the community, and we hope they (the community) will try us out and see.”