Owner Gene Hamer and executive chef Bill Smith are retiring from the beloved Chapel Hill, North Carolina restaurant.

By Maria Yagoda
Updated October 11, 2018
Kyle Yamakawa

After 35 years running one of the most iconic restaurants in the American south, the two men at the helm of Crook’s Corner are handing their Chapel Hill, North Carolina institution over to capable hands.

Owner Gene Hamer and executive chef Bill Smith, who took over Crook’s Corner in 1982, announced their retirement from the restaurant on Wednesday, naming Gary Crunkleton and Shannon Healy as new owners. Hamer and Smith are credited with pioneering the South’s farm-to-table movement, helping elevate dishes like shrimp and grits to national prominence while championing heirloom ingredients.

“When we first acquired Crook’s Corner 35 years ago, our vision was to create a welcoming spot for comfort food that really highlighted the ingredients of our area,” said Hamer in a statement. “It’s an honor that so many have come to view Crook’s as an institution and I’m proud of our accomplishments and the legacy that we’ve created. I approached Gary and Shannon about taking over because they are a part of the Crook’s family and have been for decades. They understand this restaurant at its foundation and will see it into a new, successful era.”

Kyle Yamakawa

North Carolina chef Justin Burdett will be taking over in the kitchen. Most recently, Burdett opened Local Provisions in Asheville, North Carolina, though he's worked throughout the state and for Hugh Acheson at 5 & 10 in Athens, Georgia.

“Working under and learning from chef Smith has been an experience like no other – both personally and professionally,” said Burdett in a statement. “I am dedicated to maintaining the integrity behind Crook’s Corner and the dishes that everyone knows and loves. I want to make sure that Bill and Gene can walk through the doors years from now and not only recognize the legacy that they built, they will still be proud of it. Yes, you can expect to see new, seasonal dishes, but classics never die.”