By Laurie Paolicelli
The House at Gatewood, located along Highway 70 just north of downtown Hillsborough, derives its name from longtime resident Dr. Joseph Gatewood, who practiced dentistry in the area and lived on the grounds for over 30 years. The original tenants of the property were the Fryer family, who had a mill that cut white oak timber, which was used at the time for distilling barrels. That it has become what it is today – one of the most celebrated and sought-after restaurants, wedding, and party venues in Orange County – is due to the Bucks County Pennsylvania chef and restaurateur Ron Spada.
Ron has been a chef, in one form or another, since he was 14 years old. He graduated from Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts near the top of his class and pursued his passion for cooking in New York City and Pennsylvania. He owned a restaurant and catering business in Stockton, NJ called More Than Q, voted one of the best BBQs by New Jersey Monthly Magazine.
Then his wife, Jennifer, accepted a position with GSK in RTP, and Ron saw this as opportunity to expand and deepen his love of food and entertaining. On one of their preliminary trips to the Triangle, Ron happened on the property known as The House of Gatewood — it was for sale. The rest is history and a standing ovation to the power of serendipity.
The House at Gatewood Today
Under Ron and Jennifer’s steady hand, the property’s main estate house has been completely renovated – while still preserving its nostalgic character and natural property features. The garage has been replaced with a 2,000 square foot addition to provide plenty of kitchen space, and a wall has been opened to expand the visual footprint. The restaurant features three dining rooms, a large bar, enclosed and outdoor patios, as well as two private rooms to host larger parties and events. The restaurant serves as both a culinary destination and a fun gathering place for locals.
Customers dine on tables made of reclaimed wood while surrounded by historic photographs of Hillsborough, and antique mirrors. It’s a vintage vibe, and the food is classic too — “with a twist,” Jennifer says.
One of their most popular dishes is the brisket, which is smoked overnight for 10 hours. People buy it by the pound. It sells out so often customers call ahead to ask how early they should arrive to ensure their favorite dish will be available.
Along with a list of rotating specials, the menu includes staples like the heavenly cracker-crusted pork chops with cheese grits and gravy.
While The House at Gatewood was a success since its soft opening in December 2019, the coronavirus has brought a harsh new reality to its bucolic grounds, as it has to almost all restaurants in Orange County.
“It’s been terrifying to lose all of our weddings and high school graduation parties and spring celebrations,” Ron says. “But we quickly moved to a take-out, delivery-to-your-car platform, and that’s working well. But nothing beats a large gathering of people who want to enjoy each other’s company while relaxing in a beautiful country setting with food and drink.”
Since arriving in North Carolina just over a year ago, the kids have settled into local schools, Jennifer took a new position with Accenture, and Ron has been deluged with friends, community, and demand for his steak (on a griddle), shrimp and grits, pork chops, and open-air hospitality. It’s what Jennifer likes to call “Newstalgia.”
The House at Gatewood is one of a kind. Diners come from all over to experience the place, and the food. The business community has embraced it, as well. Guests come from Chapel Hill, Roxboro, Mebane, Durham, and Raleigh and the surrounding counties.
Denise Lisdahl, a Raleigh resident, puts it well: “It’s a stunning place and I love to dine outside and feel as if I’m in the country while sipping a good drink and indulging in one of the best steaks around. I feel as if I’m taking some time off in the country.”
That feeling is just a memory now: until Covid-19 runs its course, the dream of dining again in this grand and classical venue is put on an indefinite hold. But there are still ways to enjoy the incredible food and support The House at Gatewood until that day returns.
How to Support The House at Gatewood
A Sample of Menu Items
See you in the parking lot.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.