Emily and Kevin Purcell needed a fresh start.
Working in the restaurant industry through the pandemic had been crushing, and the couple needed to get away. Last July, they packed up their apartment, left their jobs at Freeman’s Grub & Pub in Greensboro, and hit the road. Over the next 117 days, they logged 28,000 miles and visited all 48 continental United States, living out of their car or crashing with friends as they explored national parks and cleared their heads. They landed in Seattle, where Emily picked up shifts at two bars and Kevin focused on woodworking.
And then the call came that brought them right back to their old lives.
Jessie and Josh Kirkman — owners of Freeman’s and the wildly popular Jake’s Billiards Bar and Restaurant up the street —wanted to sell. Like the Purcells, the Kirkmans also hit a wall during the pandemic, and they were spread too thin. It only made sense they’d reach out to Emily and Kevin.
“They weren’t able to put in the love and care that they wanted to anymore,” Emily said. “Jessie just called us and said, ‘I’d want to sell it to you guys before anybody else.’”
The Purcells quickly decided to make the jump. They’d worked at the longstanding Jake’s for years and helped open Freeman’s in 2015, keeping it going until skipping town in 2021. And they’d become close with the Kirkmans, even asking them to be a part of their intimate Vegas wedding.
“It made sense to come back to what we had already helped build,” Emily said.
They didn’t just buy the business — the Purcells also moved back into their former apartment, which is directly upstairs from the restaurant. “It’s very Bob’s Burgers,” Kevin said.
Earlier this month, the Purcells formally took over ownership of the neighborly pub. It feels remarkably different to be back at the restaurant as owners, they said, but they’re committed to keeping Freeman’s as the community hub that their regulars have come to adore. “We want to make sure the neighborhood atmosphere of this small space stays,” Emily said. “This is family run, and we want to extend that family to the community.”
Freeman’s will still be most known for its sandwiches, from the popular slow-smoked chopped brisket with pimento cheese and blackberry barbecue sauce to the Cuban, which comes with country ham to make it saltier and “more Southern” than its traditional counterpart. Kevin’s favorite — the hand-breaded chicken strips with cornflakes in the breading — will stay on the menu as well.
The Purcells want to stay true to the spirit and vibe of the restaurant they helped create while investing in the details. Most items are approachable to the point of sounding basic — think jalapeno poppers, a Caesar salad, or a grilled chicken BLT, but the pub was also among the first in town to offer updated favorites like street corn and banh mi.
“A lot of the core part of the menu has to stay,” Kevin said. “It’s a little neighborhood spot, so all changes will be made with existing customers in mind.”
The Purcells are mindful of not wanting to burn out their new and inherited staff. After all, they’ve felt the strain this industry can place on your mental health. That’s why they’re prioritizing “open and honest” communication with their new and existing staff members, Kevin said, and they added a breakroom downstairs to give employees a place to decompress if needed. The couple hopes that living upstairs will reduce some of the strain on their team, making them more available to pitch in as needed outside their normal hours.
“We want to be here for the entire staff,” Emily said. “I’m getting a little choked up, but we’re extremely proud of them and we’re very happy with all the effort they’re putting in.”
• Freeman’s Grub & Pub [Official]
• Jake’s Billiards Bar and Restaurant [Facebook]