The End of an Era

In Eat, March 2023 by Lauren KruchtenLeave a Comment

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The Rockford may have closed for good, but its legacy will not soon be forgotten.

When Michael D’Amelio opened The Rockford in 1994 as the first restaurant on Glenwood South, it was little more than a fancy sandwich shop with a bar. Fast-forward through multiple owners, menus and almost-closures, and the restaurant became a fixture in Downtown Raleigh, known for its intimate watering hole feel and tight-knit community of regulars (though, really, anyone and everyone felt welcome here)—NTM reliable food and drinks. 

When The Rockford announced its permanent closure this January after nearly three decades in business, Raleighites—and even folks from out of town who had visited the restaurant—were rocked. Over the years, beyond being a go-to spot in the bustling Glenwood South neighborhood, it was also a haven of halcyon memories—from birthday dinners to engagements to time-tested menu items that gained a cult following (looking at you, ABC, a locally famous sandwich made up of apples, bacon, cheddar cheese and pancake syrup sandwiched between two slices of French toast). 

Despite its unfortunate closing due to financial hardships, this gem hidden in plain sight will remain a core part of Raleigh’s history, with a legacy that is sure to live on for years to come. Many a Raleighite had their hand in the restaurant, from Jason Howard (of The Cardinal, Pink Boot and Atlantic Lounge, to name a few) to Cheetie Kumar (formerly of Neptune’s, Kings and also-shuttered Garland) to Joe Farmer (previous owner of Humble Pie). Even renowned rocker Bon Iver was a dishwasher at The Rockford once upon a time (!). Here, we take a climb up those magical stairs one last time to reflect on the memories left in its wake. 

Gone But Not Forgotten

Michael D’Amelio, Original Owner 1994–2010

  • Fave memory: Not to sound sentimental, but I never had a bad day up there. 

Jason Howard, Owner 2010–2014

  • Fave dish: The ABC sandwich
  • Fave memory: It just felt good when people would thank me for keeping the restaurant the same.

Tony Coulter, Co-Owner 2020–2021

  • Fave drink: Manhattan
  • Fave dishes: Buffalo shrimp, sea bass, Brussels sprouts
  • Fave memory: The vibe that began when it first opened (I was there partying in the early years) and the way people kept that same Raleigh-centric vibe going for so many years

Dylan Wicher, Executive Chef 2021–2022

  • Fave dish: Fried chicken

Woody Johnson, Owner 2020–2023

  • Fave dish: Breakfast burrito
  • Fave memory: There was a couple that came here for their first date years ago. They recently brought their kids in for dinner to see the place where it all started. Special things like that just happened here. 

Cheetie Kumar, Prep Cook/Bartender ~2001–2010

  • Fave dish: The post-shift ‘mashups’ from stuff in the kitchen. I feel like I ate a lot of black bean quesadillas!
  • Fave memory: Just the camaraderie among the team and having all the local folks come through on a regular basis

Kevin Ruiz, Executive Chef 2020–2021

  • Fave dish: Burrata salad
  • Fave memory: Being a part of the bringing back of The Rockford post-pandemic

Standing the Test of Time


  • Michael D’Amelio purchases the building at 320 1/2 Glenwood Ave. and opens The Rockford as the first restaurant on Glenwood South.


  • Second-floor restaurant conversion approved


  • Jason Howard purchases the restaurant, planning to change the concept, but after community pushback kept it as The Rockford. 


  • Chef Jason Tran helms the kitchen.


  • Howard sells The Rockford to his partner J. Wellons.


  • Chef Howard McDonald runs the kitchen.


  • Wellons is the first to change The Rockford menu—the ABC sandwich comes off. 


  • Upon reopening post-pandemic closure, the cult-classic ABC sandwich returned for brunch, but didn’t hit and fell off the menu at the end of 2020. 
  • Kevin Ruiz hired as executive chef.
  • Woody Johnson takes over ownership, along with Tony and Bill Coulter (the Coulters depart in 2021). Kitchen renovations ensue.


  • Ruiz departs; chef Dylan Wicher is hired to lead back-of-house. 
  • Management made updates that honored the character, ushering in a consistent, quality and “vibey” restaurant by Jermaine Caldwell.


  • The restaurant announced its permanent closure in January.

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