Petro's Chili & Chips open Thursday

Curtis Hale decided to change careers. Due to that switch, Southern Pines will soon have a new dining option.

Petro’s Chili & Chips, a franchise owned by Hale, is slated to open late this spring on 15-501. Although Hale lives near Raleigh, he fully grasps the significance of the location in terms of traffic.

“You can’t go wrong when you’re next to Chick-fil-A,” Hale said. “They do their homework. We could not ask for a better spot.”

Hale wanted to place a franchise in the Raleigh area, but a core philosophy had him take a measured approach.

“It would be nice to be one mile from my home, but it wasn’t the right place at that time,” he said. “We’ve been able to wait to get into the right spot. We wait for great.”

Speaking of waiting, Hale didn’t enter the restaurant business right out of college. He spent 25 years in medical sales before entering the industry. The decision to change fields came after watching what appeared to be a weary salesman trudging through an airport with a briefcase.

“I traveled all the time,” Hale, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, said. “I didn’t see myself doing it for the next 25 years.”

His first endeavor in food service was operating a Sir Pizza in High Point.

“Pizza was a good thing to get into,” Hale said. “I’ve done it for several years. It is the love of my life.”

Visitors won’t find pizza at Petro’s, but the chain’s mainstays, the Petro and Hint-Of-Orange Iced Tea, have been big hits in other locales. The Petro, which includes various toppings, has chili as its base.

“We’ve got a vegetarian chili and we’ve got a chicken chili,” Hale said. “With the vegetarian chili, you can’t tell the difference as far as taste.”

Hale was quick to explain that even though a Petro features chili, it’s a different kind of culinary treat.

“It’s not chili, it’s a Petro,” Hale said. “You don’t think of it as a chili place. There are a lot of toppings you can put on a Petro.”

Among available toppings are fresh-cut onions, tomatoes, real sour cream, cheddar or jack cheese, and either corn chips or pasta. All-beef hot dogs, giant baked potatoes, nachos and salad wedges are also on the menu. The kids’ menu features three selections.

With nine locations in Knoxville, Petro’s is very popular with a specific demographic.

“Our top customers are females from 21 to 38,” Hale said. “They’re young professionals and students.”

The COVID-19 crisis has hit businesses hard. Because of the altered landscape, Hale has a cautious outlook.

“It’s not the best position to be in,” he said. “We’ll go off what everyone else does. We’ll do our best with it.”

An opening with all the bells and whistles may seem out of question, but that’s not necessarily the case.

“We’re going to be finished by the second week of May,” Hale said. “We want to have a tea party, where people get a free iced tea.”

Petro’s will employ about 26 people in Southern Pines, who, if things stay on schedule, will be serving customers around June 1.

“If you want something fattening, you can have that,” Hale said. “If you want something healthy, you’ll find that. We’re very excited to be in North Carolina.”

~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Dave Lukow.

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