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San Dee’s Café owner Rick Blackburn visits with Cow Camp residents Keith Pyatte, Earline
Pyatte and Pat Brooks as they celebrate Keith’s 63rd birthday with a San Dee’s supper.
Jamie Shell/The Avery Journal-Times

Originally published: 2012-11-19 20:37:12
Last modified: 2012-11-19 20:37:12

San Dee’s Café a Newland staple for more than three decades

Jamie Shell / (

Since 1980, San Dee’s Café has served up some of the most sought-after lunch and dinner items in Newland and the surrounding area. 

San Dee’s is named after Sandee Blackburn, who opened the restaurant 32 years ago after operating the Golden Skillet restaurant at the same location, 412 Pineola Street, for 10 years. 

“When my mom opened the restaurant, that’s just what everybody called it. ‘Let’s go to San Dee’s,’ people would say,” said Sandee’s son Rick, sitting at one of the restaurant booths overlooking the traffic driving by. “She was always here and they tried to come up with a name, and my dad just suggested to call it San Dee’s, since that’s what everybody else was going to call it anyway.”

After 10 additional years of operating San Dee’s Café, Sandee Blackburn turned the business over to Rick. Along with his wife, Kim, and children Hayden, Colton and Spencer, as well as hundreds of employees through the years, San Dee’s has continued to provide some of the best meals at a reasonable price. 

San Dee’s has long been a partner with Avery High School Athletics. Each of the three Blackburn children played sports in high school, and Rick explained how the family feels a connection to the local school and community and obliged to adjust its hours to benefit students and adults looking for a local restaurant to hang out at following the big game.

“We wanted to do something for people after football games in the fall. People leave the games and want to find a place that is open to eat, so we stay open later after home football games so they can visit,” Blackburn explained. “We usually will close around 11 p.m. or as late as midnight if everyone is feeling good and it’s a winning season. It can be packed here at times.”

A variety of items, ranging from burgers and fries to chicken, hot dogs, fresh salad bar, chicken and appetizers, are available, ensuring that even the most indecisive connoisseur will find something appealing and delectable. In fact, Blackburn explained that the inspiration for many items on the menu came from a surprising source.

“Many of the foods we serve, like the pizza burger, for instance, came as a result of what people wanted. If somebody came in and mentioned that they would like something, we’d consider adding it to the permanent menu,” Blackburn explained. “Occasionally, we’ll do a survey to ask folks what they’d like to see more of or what we could do differently.”

Blackburn was quick to divulge what are the most popular items ordered by patrons of the restaurant through the years.

“Cheeseburgers are definitely our most popular,” Blackburn said. “The cheeseburger, double cheeseburger and cheeseburger sub are all big sellers. Our chicken sandwiches and chicken dinners do well. Also our pizzas are a pretty big item. We sell a lot of those as well.”  

The San Dee’s story almost came to a crashing halt in September 2004, as Hurricanes Frances and Ivan swept through the High Country. The heavy rains that inundated the area overtook downtown Newland, and floodwaters crashed through San Dee’s, washing away tables and chairs and leaving a debris-scattered mess in its wake. Cleanup and renovation took more than seven months to complete.

“When we were flooded, we really didn’t know what we were going to do. We weren’t sure if we would reopen the restaurant or not,” Blackburn shared. 

The thought of shutting down permanently lasted for about a day, according to Blackburn, before determining that the business had to get back on its feet.

“This restaurant has been part of our family for so long, and I wanted to keep it going. We didn’t want to just fold up and quit,” Blackburn added. “We renovated the kitchen and dining room with new equipment. It was almost like a challenge to us. Mom was with us trying to help with cleanup and was involved. The community was very supportive. Just after the flood happened, we had a lot of folks in the community who came by asking to help and did what they could to help us in cleaning up the place. We basically had to start all over.”

San Dee’s Café has 15 employees on staff, many of which are high school students who work for summers or during a semester, while others have been part of the San Dee’s team for more than a decade, serving as familiar and friendly faces to regular customers.

“We try to work with the schedule of the high school students, and we encourage them to go to college as well and be successful in whatever they do,” Blackburn added.

For Blackburn, San Dee’s Café is all about family ties and sharing a common place and philosophy.

“Family is very big to us. The success of the restaurant stems from those times in the beginning, when I remember my dad sitting in a booth just talking to people. It was just a family and friendly environment when everybody knew everybody,” Blackburn said. “This is a business, but it’s always been more than that. It’s also been a place for folks to hang out and feel welcome.”

San Dee’s is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through the summer, with closing time at 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays during winter months. The restaurant offers eat-in, as well as call-ahead service for pick-up orders. 

For more information or to try one of its many food options, call San Dee’s Café at (828) 733-0441.