This is Hidden Gems of Fayetteville, a series that highlights unheralded, long-running restaurants, great new spots you probably haven’t been to yet and all sorts of other unexpected food finds all across the greater Fayetteville area. Have a place we should check out? Share your hidden gem with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RAEFORD — “Growing up, all the little boys wanted to be cowboys and policemen,” Frank Crumpler said. “I wanted to be a funeral director.”
In 1960, Crumpler, a Sampson County native, opened his first funeral home in Raeford. That same year, he was appointed coroner of Hoke County. He’s still the county coroner, making him one of the longest-tenured elected officials in the country.
Along the way, he went to auctioneering school in Kansas City. He’s a musician, mortician, embalmer, auctioneer, insurance salesman, heavy equipment operator (“I used to dig all day and embalm all night,” he said) and man about town, active in the local Kiwanis Club, Masonic Lodge and Shrine Club. He was even Hoke County sheriff for about a year several decades ago.
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In 2015, he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, bestowed by the governor of North Carolina and considered one of the state’s most prestigious awards. A framed certificate hangs on the wall in the living room of his home, which is across the street from the funeral home he started in 1960 and where he once lived. (“I didn’t like the neighborhood, so I moved across the street,” he joked.)
Two years ago, at age 84, Crumpler added restaurateur back to his long list of titles.
It’s not work, it’s a hobby
Frank’s Place, at 1313 Highway 401 Business, opened in Raeford in April 2019. Crumpler said the restaurant is a hobby, but he said the same thing about all the jobs he’s worked in his life. He’s never considered any of it to be work, but he’s certainly worked hard to grow the restaurant into what it is today.
Throw a rock in Raeford and there’s a good chance you’ll hit a building owned by the Crumpler family. Frank’s Place is located next to a Family Dollar — the land for which Crumpler sold to the company. Crumpler Drive runs next to the restaurant, off of which there’s a church and apartment building that was once a steakhouse and seafood restaurant that Crumpler operated decades ago. He owns the barbershop across the street as well, which he used to run as a convenience store and grill.
Even at 86, Crumpler isn’t slowing down. His father, uncles, grandfather and cousins on his father’s side of the family were all bricklayers. His mother’s side of the family were farmers and shopkeepers.
Now funeral homes are the family business. His children, children-in-law and grandchildren now run Crumpler Funeral Home in Raeford and Pine Bluff and Lafayette Funeral Home in Fayetteville. It’s only fitting that he met his wife, Dayne, at the nearby Raeford Cemetery, where he was working as an apprentice at the funeral home handling her aunt’s funeral and burial. She, too, is a licensed embalmer.
But with the rest of the family now running the day-to-day operations, Crumpler wanted to keep busy and “be the boss of something,” he said. He had a plot of land that wasn’t being used and like that, Frank’s Place was born.
Classic home cooking
They serve breakfast and lunch six days a week, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Crumpler said he plans to extend those hours and eventually add dinner service, which will be a buffet of Southern favorites, such as beef tips and rice, chicken and pastry and collard greens. `
Head cook Joann Long, who’s been there for nearly as long as Frank’s has been open, said she’s had customers say her grits are better than their grandma’s. You’ll see Crumpler in there, too — just look for the guy wearing a shirt and tie, as he does every day. Before they married, his wife told him she wanted a man who wore a shirt and tie every day and he’s lived up to his end of the bargain.
County ham biscuits and bologna and egg sandwiches are popular for breakfast. At lunch, burgers, served as either singles or doubles with choice of toppings — get them “all the way,” with cheese, mustard, ketchup, chili, slaw and onions — are a specialty, Long said, as are the red Bright Leaf hot dogs. Collard green sandwiches, the newest addition to the menu, have proven popular, as well.
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Then there’s the banana sandwich. Long said customers can get it with peanut butter, but the classic is sliced bananas and mayonnaise on white bread, either untoasted or lightly griddled. It might sound strange, but it’s a Southern classic that counts Dale Earnhardt Jr. among its legion of fans.
Feed the hungry
Frank’s Place is down the road from a large Butterball poultry processing plant, which runs around the clock and provides a steady stream of hungry customers. When Frank’s first opened, it was takeout-only and roughly half the size it is now. He recently added a dining room, bathrooms and a model Lionel train that runs the parameter of the dining room.
Whenever a child enters the restaurant, Crumpler stops what he’s doing, grabs the remote for the train and turns it on, bound to elicit a smile from young and old alike as it huffs and puffs along the track. He spent around $1,000 on the train set, which he said has been a goal of his since opening the restaurant.
Crumpler said he plans to renovate and expand the outdoor seating area soon.
“I’m always wondering what I’m going to do next,” he said.
While the transition from funeral director to restaurant owner might seem out there, hospitality is at the root of both, and Crumpler, a devout Christian, thanks God for both. While the science and technical skills are important, part of the job as funeral director involves talking with the families in what may be their lowest moments as they grieve the loss of a loved one.
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Crumpler chuckled when he told a story of a preacher who stopped by his house after a funeral service to congratulate him on getting closer to the family than he was able to, which made Crumpler feel good.
“I meet the family when they’re at their lowest and build them back up,” he said. “I put myself on their level, from the poorest to the richest.”
As a funeral director, Crumpler would often meet clients in their home. If they were eating and asked him to stay, he’d make a point of going into the kitchen. When offered, he’d always grab a chair and sit down, talk with them, pray with them and share a meal.
Jacob Pucci writes on food, restaurants and business. Contact him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @jacobpucci or on Facebook. Like talking food? Join our Fayetteville Foodies Facebook group.
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