By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on August 5, 2021
During its Aug. 4 meeting, the Manteo Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a zoning text amendment that would allow animal boarding facilities as a special use in the B-2 General Business District. The move is the first step in paving the way for such a facility at the former site of Big Al’s Soda Foundation and Grill in Manteo.
Town Manager James Ayers told the Voice that the next step in the process will be for the applicants to go through the permitting process and ultimately submit a site plan to the town’s planning board for review. Mariel Grossman and Katie Dinwiddie – both longtime employees of Roanoke Island Animal Clinic – will be partnering in the new venture.
“We are extremely excited to give the Outer Banks a place for their pets to stay and play,” Grossman told the Voice, calling the vote the first major hurdle of many. “We’re really excited for the future.”
Grossman also said that she and Dinwiddie were pleased by the positive support they’ve received from the community. “It’s very validating,” she added.
“Everybody is totally in favor of it,” echoed Mayor Bobby Owens, noting that the text amendment was approved without a hitch. “I think it’s going to be a great facility, a needed facility and I’m glad they chose Manteo.
Prior to the Aug 4 commissioners meeting, the Manteo Planning Board on July 13 voted unanimously to recommend the zoning text amendment to that board.
In an earlier interview with the Voice, Grossman and Dinwiddie said that facility could open as early as next spring. The iconic local diner, Big Al’s Soda Fountain and Grill, opened along U.S. 64 in the late 1990s and was known for its 1950s Coca-Cola themed décor and homestyle meals.
Big Al’s owner Philip Foreman told the Voice that he and his partner made the decision to close the restaurant after struggling with being chronically short staffed. Also the owner of Brew Thru’s five Outer Banks drive-thru convenience stores, Foreman said he has decided to focus on that business and potentially grow it.
“Anyone in the restaurant business, hats off to them because I know what it takes and it takes a lot,” he said, noting that employees can’t find anywhere to live, and the seasonal business just was getting harder and harder. “For our business and our future, it was one less thing out of many things to persist.”
Foreman added that he was excited that the animal boarding facility is going at the Big Al’s site. “I’m excited to have a place to board my dogs,” he said.
The new owners have purchased the building and its contents except for the Coca-Cola memorabilia, Foreman said. Estimated to be worth $75,000 and one of the largest personal Coca-Cola collections in the country, it is expected to be auctioned off by Cornerstone Auctions in Elizabeth City this fall.
Foreman said that those interested in the auction can check Big Al’s Facebook page for more details in the coming months.