Gene Hamer and chef Bill Neal opened Crook’s Corner in 1982 and changed the face of Southern restaurant cuisine with their belief that regional dishes made with local ingredients are worthy of preservation.
A Craig Claiborne feature in the New York Times in 1985 put Bill Neal and Crook’s on the culinary map.
Bill Smith followed as chef after Neal passed away in 1991 and built on his legacy. By continually reinterpreting heirloom recipes Smith created many of what are now considered iconic Crook’s dishes like Tomato-Watermelon Salad, Honeysuckle Sorbet and his “southern schnitzel” Cheese Pork. Smith was recognized by the James Beard Awards as a finalist for Best Chef Southeast in 2009 and 2010 and retired from Crook’s Corner in early 2019.
Gene Hamer kept everything running throughout that time, including curating the art for the gallery, hosting the Crook’s Corner Book Prize and tending the Crook’s Corner garden with Seth Hand.
In 2019, Crook’s Corner was bought by Chapel Hill locals Gary Crunkleton, owner of The Crunkleton and Crook’s former bar manager Shannon Healy, owner of Alley Twenty Six. The new owners brought in acclaimed Asheville chef Justin Burdett to build on Crook’s traditions with an eye towards the future. You can read more about Crook’s new era here.
Crook’s Corner was named a James Beard America’s Classic Restaurant in 2011, an award given to restaurants with “timeless appeal, beloved for quality of food that reflects the character of their community.”
In the late 1940’s, Rachel Crook ran a fish market and cafe where Crook’s currently stands.
In 1951, at that intersection, Rachel Crook was murdered and the case was never solved. Since then, the Crook’s building has served as a taxi stand, bait & tackle shop, pool hall and for years stood deserted. In 1978, Cam Hill (Chapel Hill native & former Town Council Member) remodeled the dilapidated building and opened a barbecue house calling it Crook’s Corner in Rachel’s honor.
If you’d like to learn even more about Crook’s Corner check out these links: