dunn: “dare to strip” is no more. After 17 years of luring long-haul truckers and pestering local preachers, Dunn’s iconic risque cafe is no more.
once a controversial lightning rod in harnett county, the weather-worn blue box of a hidden building just east of exit 70 on interstate 95 is still there. so are the suggestive billboards along the interstate, which distracted a local bible college more than a decade ago.
weeds now grow where trucks used to stop and park. two large tree trunks block the entrance to the parking lot, even as a pair of sun-faded billboards of exotic faded ladies beckon anyone passing by for good food and adult toys.
rarely mentions them in the same sentence. but then again, you rarely see a place like cafe risque.
installed in a defunct family restaurant and built to withstand a series of legal barriers, cafe risque was a place of curiosity, shame, and a bit of mystery among the locals.
perhaps the biggest mystery: how did an adult entertainment business survive for so long without selling alcohol?
ultimately trying to run an exotic operation in a dry county may have been what happened at cafe risque.
perhaps it was the telling phrase uttered by everyone who agreed to talk about the coffee: “never entered the place…”
but for 17 years, from one late summer morning when her bikini top fell off to the day the busty, flirtatious gal on the front door winked at her last customer, the coffee was strong It gave the people of the Cape Fear region something to talk about. . or pray for.
cafe risque was never really seen as an adult-oriented business. nestled between farm fields and forest, the blue and white building looked more like a family business.
There’s a reason for that. Years ago, it was a family business.
according to ann little, the real estate broker in charge of the property, cafe risque was originally a community restaurant.
“It was a nice little place run by a local family,” he said. “certainly, they had nothing to do with what he became.”
When the property was listed for sale in the mid-1990s, Florida businessman Asher “Jerry” Sullivan purchased the building and nearly three acres.
then announced that he planned to turn the small building south of dunn into his franchise’s northernmost outpost: cafe risque. Sullivan already had several of the locations in Florida and Georgia, staffed by women in whatever state of nudity local law allowed.
harnett county officials, to put it mildly, were not enthusiastic about the proposal.
when reminded that harnett was a dry county and no liquor could be served, sullivan said he would open a juice bar.
“The county was completely against it,” said dwight snow, the harnett county attorney. “To his credit, Mr. Sullivan never tried to fool anyone. He said from the beginning what he was going to do with the place.
“He questioned the county’s zoning laws. His lawyer pulled out a map showing that, given the county’s zoning at the time, there were maybe three places the risque cafe could open, and they were all in the middle of a swamp somewhere.
“Their lawyers had a compelling argument and they were right. They had case law on their side. The courts have long agreed that free speech cannot be isolated and they were willing to go to court to claim the county had violated your first amendment rights.”
rather than fight it out in court, harnett county chose to minimize the footprint of risqué coffee. In a 1997 settlement, Sullivan agreed to several commercial limitations, including:
- other than the cafe, no other entertainment business would be located there.
- the building would never be expanded.
- all windows would be covered or opaque.
- there would be no dormitories for employees or others.
- staff could be topless, but all would wear pants.
- no alcohol could be served, and brown bagging was not allowed.
- No sponsors under 18 years of age are allowed.
- Any inappropriate contact of staff by customers or vice versa will not be tolerated.
“The deal was pretty graphic in what was also inappropriate,” Snow said.
On September 1, 1997, the lawsuit was dismissed. staff bikini tops quickly followed.
cafe risque itself might not be noticed on the interstate.
The same can’t be said for their billboards. Loud, strident colors with silhouettes of nude women, the signs were impossible to ignore.
especially for the neighbor across the interstate from cafe risque, foundations bible college. school officials were especially outraged that one of the billboards was in front of the entrance to their institution.
or. talmadge spence, president of the foundations bible college, was disappointed with the court settlement. students and staff at the university began praying that cafe risque would retire.
“My father, who passed away in 2000, carried that burden for the rest of his life,” said the university’s current president, h.t. spend “he faithfully opposed this invasion of our moral climate from the beginning.”
at the time, sullivan was undaunted.
“I don’t care,” he said in a 1997 Fayetteville Observer story. “I don’t tell them how to live their life, and they can’t tell me how to live my life.”
“they’re praying to god to doom this place and for us to lose all our money and retire and go home. is that a christian? i don’t think so.”
some of the signals faded over time. most egregious bible college for foundations removed.
“We’re not hurting the community,” Sullivan said at the time. “people find out we’re good citizens, good taxpaying citizens. we’re like the cookie barrel and places like that.”
then, in 2004, the state’s transportation secretary, lyndo tippett, of fayetteville, confronted sullivan. tippett wrote to sullivan asking him to refrain from “offensive advertising displays”.
sullivan responded by creating a mocking billboard on i-95 near dunn. he also sent tippett a letter calling tippett, in part, an “ignorant, narrow-minded, bigoted, bigoted, prejudiced brain.”
the signs stayed.
for years, the café was open at all hours, every day of the year. customers paid an entree and then looked at the menu and the staff.
according to little, the agent in charge of the property, much of what had been the restaurant’s original dining room had been divided into private rooms for lap dances.
“There really wasn’t a lot of room there,” he said. “I don’t think people spent a lot of time there eating dinner.”
Over time, the excitement of exotic dining and dancing began to fade. The owner, Jerry Sullivan, died in 2006. Two years later, the Risque Cafe in Lavonia, Ga., was closed and torn down, and in 2009, the Cafe in Darien, Ga., was closed for being too daring with dancing. nude.
Dunn’s business was offered for sale, but found no takers. when the frosted glass door was closed, only one cafe remained, the head office in micanopy, fla.
Requests for property owners to comment on future plans went unanswered.
the dunn building and property are being offered for $275,000, a bargain, not saying much.
“There’s work to be done, but for the right people, this could be a great opportunity.”
That opportunity, however, probably won’t involve dancing topless. harnett county officials are clearly against another adult-oriented business on site.
and this time, they can have the law on their side. one of the original provisions in the 1997 agreement stated that if the current use of café risque is discontinued for 180 days, the building can only be used for current zoning purposes.
“And I don’t think adult-oriented businesses are included there now,” said landon chandler, county planning official. “there are now enough places that would allow the operation of such a business that the first amendment’s suppression claim is no longer applicable.”
queries on the cafe’s facebook site indicate that the doors closed in early August. if so, the 180-day window closed in early February.
harnett county senior zoning inspector randy baker said a formal investigation would be conducted into the date cafe risque ceased operations, if necessary. He said it’s clear there hasn’t been any activity in the business for some time.
“I guess we’re pretty close, if we haven’t already,” he said. “if so, someone can come in and pick up where cafe risque left off.”
which would make the residents of the fundaciones bible school very happy.
“We’re taking it as an answer to prayer,” Spence said. “if so, providence has brought this closure as a testimonial to the power of prayer. we are glad to see this day come.”
staff writer chick jacobs can be reached at [email protected] or 486-3515.