Grady Allred built a cafeteria empire

In 1927, Charles Apostle and John Campourakis opened the Carolinian Coffee Shop at 422 North Cherry Street, between the Union Bus Station and the Hotel Robert E. Lee, in Winston-Salem. Things went well at first, but when the Great Depression struck in 1929, business began to decline. The cafe was acquired by brothers Thomas, Kenneth and William Wilson, who were soon joined by their brother-in law, T.K. Knight. On Thanksgiving Day, 1935 Grady Allred went to work there. The first day, he noted that only $42 had been taken in. He would not receive a paycheck for several months.

But in early 1936, good fortune struck. The annual Northwest Basketball Tournament, sponsored by the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, began in early March. Over a three week period, about 2,000 high school basketball players, coaches and officials would need to be fed. Tournament founder and director Frank Spencer awarded the food contract to the Carolinian. Grady Allred finally got paid.

Probably the first K&W menu, 1937…at the time K&W was a straight up restaurant, not a cafeteria…

In 1937, the partners changed the name of the cafe, choosing K (for Knight) and W (for Wilson). Allred soon became a partner. Knight left, and in 1941, Allred bought out the last Wilson brother and became sole owner. He opened a second K&W in High Point.

K & W, 422 North Cherry Street

In 1951, a fire shut down the Cherry Street cafe, which would take nearly a year to rebuild. But that turned out to be a good thing, because Allred had noticed that cafeteria style service was a growing trend. So when the K&W reopened in 1952, it had become a hybrid cafe/cafeteria. Soon, both the High Point and Winston-Salem locations had been converted to cafeteria only operations.

K & W, 1950s…Forsyth County Public Library picture collection…

In 1960, Allred opened his second Twin City location in the new Parkway Plaza Shopping Center on Corporation Parkway, now Silas Creek Parkway. It was an instant success. The original downtown cafeteria continued to thrive.

In 1971, the legendary Hotel Robert E. Lee closed its doors for good. At that point, a very bad decision was made under the influence of the fad for “urban renewal”. The northern portion of the block between Fourth, Fifth, Marshall and Cherry Streets would be demolished. Down came the Robert E. Lee. Down came the magnificent Art Deco bus station. And down came the K&W. Allred reopened in a new building near the Memorial Coliseum.

Around 2:30 AM on January 18, 1988, the K & W on Knollwood Street, across from the Thruway Shopping Center, exploded, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble. The Sheraton Motor Inn next door was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished. Three people were injured. Investigators later determined that the cause was a spark that ignited a poorly maintained natural gas line.

From the time that Allred became sole proprietor in 1941, he had made the K&W into a family operation. When he died in 1983, he had expanded the business to 16 K&W locations in the Carolinas and Virginias. He was succeeded by his sons and grandsons and daughters. K&W is still a family centered business, with 35 cafeterias operating in the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia, a bona fide Twin City institution.

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