Longtime visitors to Hatteras village may notice
a local landmark missing on their next trip to the southern end of the
island – namely, the former Channel Bass restaurant.
Originally opened in the late 1950s, the Channel
Bass was one of the first restaurants in Hatteras village, and was
established even before the Bonner Bridge and a fully paved Highway 12
was added to the island landscape.
Jackie Harrison, who owned the restaurant for
nearly 40 years with his wife Shelby and two daughters, says he isn’t
too sad about the structure’s removal. “I’ve known about it for about
six months, so I’m not too surprised,” says Jackie. “I’m actually glad
to see it being torn down, because in the last 4-5 years, it got to be
But despite a lack of surprise at the structure’s
removal, Jackie and his daughters – Brenda and Debbie - nevertheless
have decades of fond memories of the Channel Bass, and the notoriety it
had on a national scale.
“We used to travel to places in the wintertime,
and when the girls came along, they would wear shirts with the name
‘Channel Bass,’” he says. “Then we’d be standing in line in Las Vegas
or somewhere, and people would come up to our two daughters and say
‘We’ve eaten at that place!’ It happened in Florida,
New Orleans - everywhere we went, someone would come up and say ‘we ate at that place.’ We got to be really well known.”
The Channel Bass opened around 1958, and Jackie and his family bought the restaurant in 1965.
At the time, Jackie was in the automobile
business in Newport News, VA, but he followed his parents to Hatteras
village. “I was looking for something to get into in the summer
months,” he says. “Channel Bass came up for sale, and we bought it
after two weeks of talking to people.”
At the time, Jackie estimates that there were
four restaurants in the area – which includes Sonny’s and the
Quarterdeck – and the Channel Bass was already an established eatery
for the handful of visitors who made the trek south.
The Harrisons kept the name Channel Bass after
they bought it, and though it was a quick sale, the restaurant was not
necessarily an overnight success. With a sparse visitor population,
Jackie estimates that in the first couple of years, the family made
about $6,000 annually.
“The first year, we tried opening in winter. The
second year, we did the same thing, and we found that it was a
disaster,” says Jackie. “So after the first couple of years, we quit
opening in the wintertime.”
Over the next four decades, the Harrisons made a lot of tweaks to the Channel Bass – which included multiple remodels.
“[Running the restaurant] was something that we
enjoyed doing, and I kept doing research,” says Jackie. “For the first
few years, Shelby and I would go to Norfolk, and wherever I went, I
ended up in a [restaurant] kitchen talking to people to see how they
did things - the equipment they were using, their menus – and that went
on for 5-6 years.”
The research certainly helped build the Channel Bass business, but so did the food.
For decades, the Channel Bass only served seafood
that was caught by local anglers. “Most of the fish came right off the
boats,” says Jackie’s daughter Debbie. “It was nothing but Hatteras
style seafood, and the food was impeccable. [Fishermen] would come into
the village marinas, get fish in the cooler, and then bring it right to
our back door.”
The series of remodels and fresh seafood brought
the crowds, and as Hatteras village grew in popularity, so did the
Channel Bass restaurant. There were plenty of expansions and hiccups
along the way – like a devastating hurricane in 1973 that caused
interior flooding, or a large remodel in 1977 – but the Channel
Bass always remained a family affair.
“My daughters grew up with the restaurant,” says
Jackie, “and my wife Shelby was the backbone and spirit of the
restaurant. With my two daughters, my wife, and I, we were open seven
days a week until the last 2-3 years.”
Nearing retirement, the Harrisons sold the
Channel Bass in 2003 and leased the property for the remainder of the
summer season. When Isabel hit Hatteras village in September of 2003 –
damaging the Channel Bass and destroying Jackie’s house – they retired
from the restaurant business for good.
Isabel also took a lot of memories from the
Channel Bass, which included photos of the original structure and four
decades of memorabilia. But there are still plenty of fond moments from
the restaurant’s heyday for both Jackie and his daughters.
“We were very popular,” says Jackie. “80-90% of
our business was regular customers, and their families and kids. And we
were a family business - Debbie used to have to use a Coca Cola crate
to get up to the cash register.”
The eventual plans for the site are still unknown
– (condos are a possibility) – but for many locals and longtime
residents, the plot of land next to the creek in Hatteras village will
always be the home of the Channel Bass. Thanks to Jackie and his
family, the restaurant that they owned for nearly 40 years has left an
“I miss the people and the business itself,” says
Jackie. “We met a lot of awful nice people. Every now and then, you’d
have a complainer, but most of the time people would love the food. It
was a pleasure to serve great food and see people enjoy it.”
“On behalf of us all, it will always make us
proud to be the Channel Bass family,” says daughter Brenda. “As most
would say, there was only one Channel Bass for Hatteras.”