VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — UPDATE: The owners of Fry's BIG Kitchen announced that they were closing. A reason for the closure was not given.
Sometimes it's a dream, sometimes it's a gift, and for Donnie Fry? Owning Fry's BIG Kitchen is both.
"I don't consider myself a chef. I did not go to culinary school, I figured this all out on my own, and that's one of the things I'm most proud of," Fry said.
When you step inside Fry's BIG Kitchen in Virginia Beach, you can tell this is a cool place. Artwork and records drape the walls and welcome guests.
"It is a place for everybody," he said.
For him, this location is special.
"I grew up here. I went to Salem High School. I graduated in 1999," he said as he talked about his friends who would bike around this neighborhood.
"When someone comes in here, there is a very good likelihood that someone else dining in here has known me since I was a little kid."
Fry says seeing people that inspired him come to this restaurant is a big deal. Now, he is inspiring an entire new generation.
"It's a moment that almost makes me emotional. I was just a kid, and to see that come full circle is very, very special," he said.
Fry's BIG Kitchen wasn't always a brick and mortar,
"It's kind of a natural progression of Fry's Smaller Kitchen, which was a food truck. I ran the food truck for about four years," he explained.
Now, a small fry has become a big kitchen.
And this kitchen is producing BIG flavors. Their menu is long but oh so delicious. The shrimp tacos are my favorite, but the Philly is a close second.
"Our Philly is a killer," Fry boasted.
And he's not kidding. It is better than some I have had in Philly.
The best part about the food is that it's fresh.
"Nothing in this restaurant is processed, ever," Fry said.
"Our fries are all hand-cut. We go through hundreds of pounds of potatoes every week to make those fries."
The food at Fry's BIG Kitchen is incredible, but what's even more extraordinary is Donnie Fry's story.
"In 2015, I was hit head-on by someone texting, and I broke my neck, and I had to stop everything, and life was completely put on hold," Fry said as he paused to remember the accident.
"I was physically broken. I was at a loss for who I was, who is this," he became emotional thinking about the past, and then he looked at our crews and nodded, going on.
"So, I went and got help, I went and got a therapist. I did something a lot of dudes aren't going to do."
Fry went on to talk about how therapy changed his life.
"I was able to pick myself back up and not only just get it together, but kind of launch myself out of a cannon is how I pictured it. I'm still on that same trajectory, I haven't slowed down, and I don't plan to. This is not the end. There's more."
Though his accident was in 2015, Fry said that years later, he was still experiencing problems.
"In my accident, I smacked my teeth together, and it was not covered by my health insurance. Over the next two years, I started having teeth break, like shatter in my mouth."
He says he then got a call telling him to call a local dentist.
"I was like, this is Donnie Fry. I was told to call. And she says hold on one second. She put Dr. Korman on, and they told me that I was gifted a new mouth by an anonymous donor and that they were basically going to do a full mouth rehabilitation," Fry said as he began to cry.
"I'm beyond moved by those folks who did that for me. And uh, I don't know that I'll ever be able to talk about it and not be emotional."
Now, he has a new smile.
"I've had to learn to let my lip go up when I smile, naturally, you know it's a freeing thing," he said.
"I hope that eventually, I can do that for someone too. It's really what it's done. It's opened up a part of me that I didn't really know was there. But now I yearn for that. I can't wait to be able to change someone's life like the way these people did for me. So, that's going to happen. It will happen.
After everything Fry has been through, he now wants to spread positivity to others.
"There's always space for a breath. Nothing is ever so urgent that you can't take a breath. Nothing is ever so massive that you can't break it into pieces. One thing at a time, one day at a time, and when you're sometimes struggling, it's okay to go one second at a time. Just keep going because you never know what can happen. You really don't. I would just say keep going. Do not quit," he said as he wiped a tear from his face.
He is proving that not quitting pays off, owning and operating Fry's BIG Kitchen in his hometown.
"This, to me, is still astounding. The fact that we're sitting here and talking about this restaurant that's called Fry's Big Kitchen is unbelievable to me. It really is. Having this restaurant in this location on Kempsville Road in Virginia Beach still doesn't seem real to me," he said.
You can visit Fry's BIG Kitchen at 995 Kempsville Rd, Virginia Beach.