WATERFORD — One of the area’s signature restaurants, the Cotton Exchange, was sold earlier this month.
But don’t expect to see big changes there any time soon, says former co-owner Kathy Prailes. She and her husband, Dan Prailes, are staying on as co-managers for some time.
The Prailes represented a bridge from the former Cotton Picker restaurant to the Cotton Exchange. Both of them worked at the former: Dan as a bartender and cook and Kathy as the manager, informally.
In 2000 the Foster family — Kathy’s maiden name — took over what had previously been The Barn which was sitting vacant at 345 Hickory Hollow Road, and fronting the busy intersection of highways 20 and 83. The Cotton Exchange was started in that historic barn.
The Cotton Picker, a longtime landmark at highways W and 36 in Burlington, closed in 2012, but the 15,000-square-foot Cotton Exchange is still going strong as a restaurant and event center, serving more than 1,000 customers weekly. It still employs about 35 people “and can take on a few more,” Kathy remarked.
Prailes said neither she nor Dan ever expected to make running the Cotton Exchange a lifelong pursuit. So, as their time there was approaching 19 years, they put their business on the market with a broker and found a buyer; the sale closed Oct. 1.
Prailes declined to name the buyer but said it is someone with several different businesses. The Journal Times was not able to reach the buyer or buyers last week.
“We were ready to try something new,” Prailes said. “Our children are graduating from high school, and they were not interested in continuing with the business. Before we found ourselves stuck here forever,” they decided to pass the torch to someone new.
For now, Prailes said, “We’re still running the show as co-managers and plan to leave “within the next year.” She expects things to continue largely as they have been.
“Our goal is for us to have our employees take on those leadership roles,” Prailes said.
Asked if she feels good about the Cotton Exchange’s future, she said the newest employee has been there for five years. “So I think they have potential,” Prailes said.
And will the community accept a Cotton Exchange with owners who are no longer local people?
“I think they should,” Prailes responded. “… When I go, the people will be the same.”
She continued, “I really hope to see the Cotton Exchange continue to flourish and support the community. We have stressed that over and over and over.”