Cafe 71 Smokehouse Closed Abruptly Amidst Allegations of Mismanagement

This is where I’d normally set the table for my visit to Cafe 71 Smokehouse, which opened up last fall in the space formerly occupied by Rick’s Smokehouse in the small town of Welcome, NC just north of Lexington. But the course of this post changed when Cafe 71 abruptly closed a few weeks ago just shy of 4 months open.

I recently visited Cafe 71 much the same way I did Rick’s three years ago, leaving Charlotte on a banker’s holiday to make the 1.5 hour drive up to Lexington for lunch. I had planned to hit two Lexington joints that day but with the Monkettes in tow, I decided not to push it.

And what I found in my tray at the time was delicious, smoky pork that filled the void of traditional wood smoking left when Rick’s Smokehouse closed last April. The slaw had a nice balance of tangy with just a hint of sweet, and the hush puppies were fresh. All in all, a good meal. It was certainly in the conversation for a 4.5 hog rating which would have matched that of Rick’s when I originally visited.

I apparently should be glad I was able to get a meal at all, because it has since come to light that Cafe 71 did not keep regular hours and would oftentimes close for the day because there was no more food available. Weird. Normally, this is what a barbecue restaurant craves: smoking tons of meat and serving the freshest, best version of of it until it runs out for the day. Then doing it all over again for the next day. For Cafe 71, it was a matter of restaurant mismanagement. Owner Newlan Spears falsely blamed it on a lack of regular kitchen staff in a recent Lexington Dispatch article but comments on the Dispatch Facebook page paint a story that goes beyond simple mismanagement: apparently no employees or vendors were getting paid. In that article, Spears complained about having 25-30 kitchen staff during his 4 months open but turns out that there is high kitchen turnover when paychecks are bouncing. Waitresses only stayed because they were getting (deservedly) tipped for their great service. Spears also had outstanding debts at Shuler Meats and Orrell’s Food Service. Here’s what was posted in the Facebook comments from a former waitress:

While the situation does not appear to be good for anyone, it does explain an odd confrontation I had as I left the restaurant. After eating (and enjoying) my meal and paying, I let the girls go to my car (parked right out front) while I did my usual routine of snapping photos – sign, smoker, woodpile, wide shot of building, etc – when Spears approached me asking why I was taking photos. I explained that it was for my barbecue blog and while he was mostly appeased in the moment, he did throw in a comment that I was making the waitresses uneasy. And I’m not going to lie, this comment bothered me a little. But now I understand that Spears probably thought I was snooping around on account of his shady business practices.

It’s a shame that Cafe 71 Smokehouse wasn’t able to give it a legit go but there’s still some good news in Lexington. Speedy’s owner Roy Dunn announced that it was relocating instead of closing, keeping the 60 year old restaurant open. Also, I was informed that a new joint called Southern Fire Pit has opened in the former Arcadia Q (which was formerly Speedy Lohr’s of Arcadia) and is smoking over wood. Both will be on my to-visit list next time I make it to Lexington.

And late breaking news that all is not lost for this location and its traditional pit. As I write this it appears based on a Facebook comment that the previous owner Rick Matthew of Rick’s Smokehouse is going to reopen a barbecue restaurant in the same space. The name? Well, apparently it will be called Jimmy’s. I can’t wait.

Preparations Underway for the Barbecue Festival in Lexington

Monk: Preparations are underway, not only from the organizers of the festival but also the restaurants on the fringe of town who hope to get additional traffic from the 150,000 or so folks coming into town for the weekend.

I did learn from this video that a barbecue joint named Cafe 71 has recently opened in the former Rick’s Smokehouse in Welcome, which is wonderful news and has been added to my list.

The Lexington Barbecue Rankings: June 2022 Update

Monk: I first posted the Lexington Big Board two years ago in June 2020 in the early months of the pandemic and have maintained it ever since but it was only in recent months that we’ve had some actual movement in the rankings. And unfortunately it was due to closures.

As a result of the NC Department of Transportation widening of Highway 8, Smiley’s Barbecue has officially closed as of February 2022 but I did get to check them out one last time in October 2020. They will surely be missed. Speedy’s appears to be open for the time being but their days are numbered as a result of the same project. And, in a shock Facebook post at the end of April, Rick’s Smokehouse (previously my overall Lexington #3) closed. Currently they are listed on Facebook as “temporarily closed” but I’ve seen no indications that they will reopen, despite numerous pleas from comments on Facebook.

That leaves us with 13 open restaurants by my count, which I continue to divide into three tiers. I did try Lexington Trimmings after the publish of the initial list but they slotted into the third tier. Blazin’ BBQ and Kickin’ Chicken was another on my list but they closed in October 2020 after only 4 months open

With that out of the way, the current Lexington Big Board

Tier 1

No movement at the very top with the ever-reliable Lexington Barbecue and Bar-B-Q Center maintaining spots 1 and 2 (really 1 and 1a). Speedy’s is worth one last visit before they close.

Tier 2

Any of these would be worth a revisit, as I believe they all continue to smoke over wood coals.

Tier 3

Lexington Style Trimmings looked the part of a Lexington joint but the barbecue was a letdown.

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments or email us at

Noble Smoke – Charlotte, NC (Rudy’s take)

Name: Noble Smoke
Date: 2/12/22
Address: 2216 Freedom Dr, Charlotte, NC 28208
Order: Little bit of everything (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Rudy: It’s not every day that some of the Barbecue Bros are able to get together and eat barbecue.  Nowadays there has to be a big event to cause it and a couple weeks ago we had a big event! Monk was turning 40 and becoming a man, which gave us a great excuse to get together and celebrate that momentous occasion with some great food.  I had heard lots of great reviews of Noble Smoke and was looking forward to trying it out. So upon landing in Charlotte, I headed straight for the restaurant to meet up with Monk and others. In full disclosure, I worked at Jimmy Noble’s restaurant in High Point back in high school, but they didn’t give me an employee discount this day. 

Reading the website before I came, it said to make sure you arrive early because they can have long lines, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as space. We sat outside, which was a fantastic set up after flying in from snowy Michigan. I am not sure if they have expanded since putting that on their site, but it looked like there was plenty of seating inside and outside and plenty of parking.  I was really impressed with their setup.

Monk: I was honored that Rudy made the trip, though it made a lot more sense when he said it hadn’t been above freezing in Michigan in about a month. Regardless, we were treated to clear sunny skies and a high of 69 the day of my 40th birthday party, so it was a nice and perfect day to eat on Noble Smoke’s huge patio. 

Rudy: We had a large group so we ordered a little bit of everything from the menu. My main dish was a chopped pork sandwich with western slaw. I added their Lexington style sauce to get a traditional sandwich feel. I really liked the fresh bun and slaw but thought the best part was the barbecue (as it should be). Very traditional barbecue with great flavor and plenty of moisture.  It was exactly what I was expecting and hoping for.  

Monk: Unfortunately, we ran out of time for me to show Rudy the Lexington-style brick pits in the smokehouse where they smoke the pork shoulders in but I’m glad the sammie hit the spot. 

Rudy: The brisket was next and it was a good effort for brisket outside of Texas but wasn’t what I was used to after living in Austin for so many years. I like having more flavor on the bark and would have preferred for it to be trimmed a bit more than it was to remove some of the excess fat that did not render all the way down. Similar review for the sausage, good effort but didn’t get all the way there for me. Again, I would have preferred a bit more flavor, but I was also glad that I tried it and it was better than average.

For me, the best part by far was the sides. Normally when you say that about a barbecue place, it is usually a slight to the meat but that is not the case here; the sides are just that good! We had hushpuppies, mac and cheese, collards, pickled veggies, and brussel sprouts. Any one of them would have been a great side that would have stood on their own, but by far the brussel sprouts were the best. Not only were they cooked perfectly, they also came with a great dipping sauce, and there were a ton of them in an order. Great value and great food.

Monk: We may have gone a little overboard on the sides but I agree that Noble Smoke executes all of them at an extremely high level. Next time I’d recommend Rudy try the creamed corn but honestly I’m just happy that I got to share a barbecue meal with Rudy for the first time in a couple of years. And also that it was significantly better than the last two times we had barbecue in Ohio in 2020 at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit and Rudy’s Smokehouse.

Rudy: Overall I was very pleased with my experience at Noble Smoke. I don’t have the depth of experiences with Charlotte barbecue that Monk does, so I don’t know how it compares or ranks with other places around the city. But I thought the atmosphere was great, the food was great, and most importantly, the friends were great!

Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Brisket – 3.5 hogs
Sausage – 3 hogs
Sides – 5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs