Biscuits like Caves’ helped build the church, which was founded in 1959. Women from the congregation sold them with country ham to collect funds. So successful was the enterprise that St. Paul’s expanded its efforts and menu to a makeshift booth at the State Fair in 1962. “It was a two-forked program: outreach and a way to start our church,” Caves says of the initial business. “It was a way to make some money and to hire a minister.”
The congregation gathered recipes for the restaurant, which are still used today. “They came down from the charter members of the church,” Caves says. Plate meals ($8) include the choice of one meat, two vegetable sides and hushpuppies or biscuits. Barbecue sandwiches ($5), hot dogs ($2.50) and hamburgers ($3.50) are also available for lunch and dinner. But on a fall day at the fair, not much beats a bowl of St. Paul’s rich Brunswick stew ($4.50).
With their church now firmly rooted on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh, St. Paul’s helps others to their feet by sharing their building and resources. Caves explains that faith-based groups from India, Vietnam and the Philippines have “nested” in St. Paul’s congregation until they can start churches of their own. At the State Fair, members of the larger St. Paul’s community work together from 6 a.m. until well after midnight to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. It takes three shifts of 12 members to cook and mange the restaurant each of fair’s 11 days, not including volunteers who clean up at the end of the night. Members are also called upon before the fair to transition the shed-like building into a functioning restaurant with a service line and long, family-style tables draped in red-and-white checkered cloths.
St. Paul’s is located on restaurant row northeast of Dorton Arena for the duration of the State Fair, which ends Oct. 23. The Art of Cooking is available at St. Paul’s Church office (3331 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, 787-1278).