Sheldon China spent three decades in the food industry before returning to his hometown to open his own restaurant.
He and his wife, Joyce, opened Melvin at Riverside September 1 along the Cape Fear River east of downtown Fayetteville. The restaurant and bakery on Person Street advertises itself as serving “Southern comfort food,” open for lunch and dinner, serving sandwiches, seafood, barbecue, and desserts. It is not affiliated with Melvin’s Hamburgers & Hot Dogs in Elizabethtown.
The restaurant is named after the Chinese uncle and many menus refer to other family members: his aunt Addie, his brother-in-law Ant, his mother Carolyn and his wife, Bernice. Joyce said the current menu is inspired by the food their friends and family love.
“We cooked a lot of these foods for our friends and family. They loved them so we thought, why not put them on the menu? ” she says.
Joyce takes care of the sweet side of the menu, “Sweet P’s Desserts”. The childhood nickname is short for her middle name, Pecolia. Banana pudding is the homemade dessert. Strawberries, chocolate, carrots and pound cake are served by the slice for $7.50 and pre-ordered whole cakes are $40.
Her husband said the restaurant was more affordable than the restaurant previously housed in the 4,000 square foot space, Chef Judy’s Riverside Seafood. The average price for a starter, drink and dessert is around $25.
The house specialty is marinated and smoked ribs served with cornbread and a side dish for $18. Entries start at $11.
Before the culinary veteran opened Melvin’s, he ran restaurants like Chili’s, Bahama Breeze and Sweet Tomatoes in North Carolina and even worked as a private chef for the University of North Carolina football team.
The former Deep Creek Road resident said after decades of running restaurants, he wanted to open a place to serve food the community loves and host family and church gatherings.
“I opened successful restaurants and wanted to give back to the community I grew up in,” he said.
China and his team of seven will prepare lunches for Alpha Academy on Raeford Road from next month and plan to do the same for other charter schools in the region, many of which do not have their own cafeteria. When foodservice provider Preferred Meals went out of business this summer, he said, it left some charter schools in the lurch.
“It’s a good thing for the community and we help feed the children,” he said.
The Chinese already have their next adventure in sight. They plan to open Smoke and Lick, a casual barbecue spot on Ramsey Street or Skibo Road next year. They said the restaurant would serve finger licking smoked meat dishes.
In the meantime, Sheldon China said he was happy to enjoy the positive public reception of Melvin’s at Riverside.
“The proof is in the plate,” he said. “When everyone leaves, it’s empty.”
Hours: From 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Closed on Mondays.
Location: 1130 Person Street
On the Web: facebook.com/MelvinsRiverside
Taylor Shook, food, restaurant and business journalist, can be reached at [email protected].