Growing up, I always looked forward to Saturday trips to visit my grandparents in Hobgood because that meant a stop at The Freez in Scotland Neck. I could count on two things: the best fried chicken skin on this side of the state and getting my vegetable serving in with fried okra. I am fairly certain that in third grade when someone asked me what my favorite food was, that was what I told them at the lunch table.
Later, after my lifeguarding shifts at Scotfield Country Club, my go-to order became a cheeseburger with mustard and ketchup, fried okra, sweet tea, and a chocolate milkshake. I am not one for dessert, but how can one resist a Freeze chocolate milkshake? I mean, they make it with chocolate ice cream AND chocolate syrup. This is a no-brainer, folks.
The Freez opened as a Tastee Freez franchise on June 23, 1963 by Edgar and Evelyn Braxton. The Braxtons made this a family affair, from Edgar helping build the original building to all three children, Eddie, Beverly, and G.W., working at the business. They kept the restaurant a franchise for several years before deciding to go out on their own, changing the name to the landmark name, The Freez.
The restaurant operated as a drive-thru until the mid-1970s. Folks have fond memories of the restaurant when it was a drive-thru in the sixties because that’s where the teenagers hung out. I spoke with G.W. Braxton, who ran the business up until last year with his sister Beverly, and some of his fondest memories of the restaurant were when the teenagers would hang out back after Friday night ball games and dance around the jukebox. One particular night, someone came inside and told Edgar people were dancing on his car, so that quickly ended the jukebox. But, G.W. remembers the muscle cars driving through the parking lot as a favorite memory as well.
I have always loved hearing my mom’s stories about The Freez from her high school days. Like, how when she left school, she would head up to the restaurant for a pizza burger. While I never got the chance to try one, that pizza burger is still one of her favorite meals she’s ever had. The supplier for the pizza burger stopped carrying it years back, and G.W. was never able to find a great replacement. He even tried to make his own using the ingredients he found on the box, but was never able to get it quite right.
The 1970s brought change to the restaurant, with remodeling that included a seating area, the famous fried chicken was added to the menu, and Eddie decided to leave the business to work in insurance. Beverly and G.W. stayed to help their parents operate the business.
In 1986, Edgar passed away, and it was time for another remodel to keep up with demand. This time, Beverly, G.W., and Evelyn decided to form a partnership. Beverly’s son, Patrick Bunting, also joined in on the family affair and worked in the restaurant until he was 40 years old. When Evelyn retired in the early 1990s, G.W. and Beverly were seeing a steady increase in business and the need for a second broster cooker, used for frying chicken. So, in 1997, another 10 year remodel happened with more seating, indoor bathrooms, and a larger kitchen with a second broster cooker. The original remodeling plan was for 2 weeks, but it ended up taking about 8 weeks, and a lot more money, and the restaurant had to close during the time. Beverly and G.W. were nervous about business, but were surprised with record sales for the two months after reopening from their loyal customers.
Evelyn passed away in 2001, but Beverly, G.W., Patrick, and the staff maintained the reputation of good food at good prices. In the late 2000s, Beverly and G.W. decided to cut their hours of operation to 11-6, Monday through Friday after working 7 days a week for decades. In 2015 and 2017, G.W. had some surgeries, and they made the difficult decision to close the Freez. I had the pleasure of sitting down with G.W. and his wife Kim to talk about the Freez, and the one thing that was incredibly evident was the dedication to serving quality food at the best possible prices. G.W. told me that it had always been difficult for them to raise prices on their menu because of the loyalty the customers gave to the business. Their work ethic and dedication to the restaurant, learned from their parents, is evident by the success and reputation. There was never a time I went in to the restaurant that I did not recognize the staff. When I sat down with G.W. and Kim, I learned that they took their staff on a vacation to Vegas.
It was such a sad day to learn that the Freez had closed its doors, but then Deborah Wilson and her husband, Brandon, bought it to reopen. Deborah is a registered dietitian with 15 plus years in health care. It seemed a natural progression to get into the food industry. Deborah, a native of Tarboro, and her husband, a native of Oak City, came here for fried chicken and that remains Deborah’s favorite, that and the slaw. She made a decision to stick with the menu because as Deborah stated, if you can’t teach ‘em, join ‘em. Why change the menu that has worked for generations? I don’t know about y’all, but I am incredibly thankful that she has stuck to the menu…. Especially the chocolate milkshake recipe!
G.W. and Beverly Braxton have been helpful to Deborah with keeping the menu consistent. One of the biggest learning processes was learning how to prep and batter the chicken, and the chili and famous slaw recipes. In fact, G.W. helps makes the slaw and prep the chicken. She kept the menu consistent by using the same food distribution service. The only major change I see is that they are going to have credit card machines, so for those of us who only carry debit cards, this will be a great help!
And y’all, I got the secret on the to go orders. Once they get 15 tickets on the board, they stop taking food orders. This is vital information for people like me who are coming on a Saturday and start calling the minute they open. They have gotten into a grove where everyone gets a lunch break despite their 9:00-7:30 day.
As for transitioning, Deborah kept the inside the same with the except of painting and replacing the ceiling. She said she walked right in and fired up the kitchen after the 11 month closure.
The Freez is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11:00AM-6:00PM.