The Rock Yard Tavern in Exeter schedules grand opening for the weekend after Thanksgiving

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By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN

EXETER – There have been some major changes afoot when it comes to downtown Exeter. Just last month, Pine Street welcomed the Exeter Coffee Company, earlier this year Snap Fitness relocated to their new and improved space and, in its latest change, Exeter is now a two-bar town.

With the opening of Rock Yard Tavern on E Street, bar-goers will have their pick between the newly remodeled Stag Saloon or the more craft beer-centric Rock Yard Tavern.

Landon Wilcox looks into the ice chest behind the bar to check inventory while serving customers. Photo by Paul Myers.

Landon Wilcox looks into the ice chest behind the bar to check inventory while serving customers. Photo by Paul Myers.

As early as next weekend, Exeter’s newest bar will host their grand opening, and if their soft opening two weeks ago is any indication, Landon and Janie Wilcox’s new venture is assured to be a success. According to the two new bar owners, the community has been nothing but supportive. In fact, the response has been more supportive than they had initially expected.

While applying for their ABC License through the City, both Janie and Landon attended the city council meeting where it was being considered. Unexpectedly, former Exeter council man and mayor Ted McCauley spoke during public comment.

“[When he got up to speak] I was actually thinking, ‘oh boy already throwing a wrench into this thing.’” Landon joked. “But no, he was actually there to support us.”

And while they haven’t officially opened the doors just yet, they are already feeling a sense of establishment. Of course, that is not a surprise. Both Landon and Janie were born and raised in Exeter, and they want to be a stalwart in the community. A part of doing that was hosting the Exeter Toy Drive fundraiser run by Chris Gray last weekend. They arranged catering by Taco Man and held a successful raffle.

“It’s a great thing that [Chris is] doing here, and we want to be a part of that,” Landon said.

The Rock Yard Tavern is actually doing more than just giving customers a place to go. They are also adding local beers to their line of taps. Five of their 10 craft beers on tap come from Tulare’s Kaweah Brewing and the other five come from Rocky Hill Brewing which opened earlier this year northeast of Exeter.

“We’re kind of doing something different…like the craft thing. We wanted to bring in the local guys,” Landon said. “[Kaweah and Rocky Hill Brewing] have both been great at giving advice and tips, too.”

The Rock Yard Tavern isn’t neglecting  the more traditional line of Coors and Anheuser Bush to their repertoire. Landon and Janie said that they enjoy offering the craft brews from local guys but they want to be able to serve the customers who like to sit down and just have a Coors Light too. Aside from beer and something that may have gone unnoticed is how Rock Yard Tavern is helping downtown restaurants.

Because they don’t plan on opening a kitchen or hiring cooks, they have reached out to restaurants nearby about creating a condensed menu for the bar. That way when customers get hungry they can order a pizza from VIP or a sandwich from Lunch Box, or from somewhere downtown and have it delivered there or pick it up when it’s ready. Aside from that Landon and Janie plan to invite food trucks to park out back on a regular basis.

With everything in motion one thing is for sure, Exeter’s newest bar and business model has been met with initial success. Although the road to get there has been a wild ride from the name to the remodel.

Something customers might not know is what the term Rock Yard means to the Wilcox family.

Landon’s father Nick Wilcox owned a landscaping business called Mountain Grown Rock Company and a trucking business called Nick Wilcox Trucking. Nick went on to get a truck with a crane boom that he used to pick up large rocks that people would landscape their yards. When work was done for the day Nick would store his trucks on a small lot on Nobel Ave off of Exit 156 that was affectionately deemed the “rock yard.” Landon said that it is a place that he used to play with and just hangout. Beyond the name, Landon and Janie plan on honoring Nick, who passed away in 2015, with some tasteful decor.

Before long they’ll canvass a photo of Nick’s truck and hang it up on the wall. It will go along well with their father’s license plate that reads “Rockman” fastened to the outside of the fridge that greets customers as they walk in.

Those additions are among the last though. When they took on the old Cappella Coffee House there were some additions that needed to be made, but according to Janie and Landon they were largely cosmetic.

Aside from rebuilding the bar and adding an industrial sized refrigerator, they redid the floors, added some televisions and rolled on a new coat of paint. And just like that it was just about done.

As far as employees go, the Rock Yard Tavern is family-owned and -operated. Between the hours of 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, customers will either see a member of the Wilcox family behind the bar or a friend that is practically family. Of course, in a small town like Exeter, friends and family are practically the same and that is what Rock Yard Tavern wants to exude.

“[Exeter] is what we want to be about. We’re from here, our kids go to school here, we went to school here. We’re looking forward to being a staple in the community,” Landon said.

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