Anika Riley

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — An important landmark in the history of Rock Hill has reopened to the public as the restaurant Kounter, which is a name that draws on the significance of the site.

It was 60 years ago that nine African American men, who were students at nearby Friendship College, took a seat at the lunch counter at McCrory’s Five & Dime, an act that made the country take notice during the civil rights movement.

The men, referred to as the “Friendship Nine,” were arrested and spent 30 days in jail for holding a sit-in at that now iconic counter where they were not allowed to dine on Jan. 31, 1961.

The building on Main Street, which was previously home to the Five & Dine restaurant, had been closed since January 2019.

Chef and owner Rob Masone opened the new restaurant in December 2020 and he chose the name Kounter to acknowledge the history of the site and educate the community about what happen there.

“The historical dynamic of the actual building that we’re in, I think adds a history of its own and what we’ve done is try to enhance that and try to continue the education of what happened here in 1961 and I think that people have been really receptive to it,” said Masone.

The restaurant features the original counter from the sit-in and the stools have each member of the Friendship Nine’s name and the date engraved on the back.

Nathaniel Frederick, director of the African American studies program and an associate professor of mass communication at Winthrop University, said the site has had an impact on the legacy of Rock Hill.

“Recalling events about the struggles and triumphs of the civil rights movement is empowering. It is necessary to tell those stories, so future generations won’t have to endure those problems,” said Frederick.

Friendship Nine Counter
The Kounter restaurant features the original counter from the Jan. 31, 1961 sit-in and the stools have each member of the Friendship Nine’s name and the date engraved on the back (photo: Anika Riley).

Staff and customers say they appreciate the building’s significance and its unique touch to the dining experience.

“I think it’s great that we’re keeping the old McCrory building in general; there’s plenty of history in the building itself, in these walls. The fact that we’re still carrying over the dining and the passings that have happened through the history of Rock Hill is super cool,” said Payton Arnold, an employee at Kounter.

“I love the historical aspect of the restaurant,” said customer Angie Lanier. “They had a lot of different choices, very unique, and the service was actually pretty good, the food was good, I definitely would go back.”

“We’re excited about the concept of food that we’re doing, we’re excited about the concept of service we’re giving, but we’re also really excited about continuing to grow the knowledge of what happened here, so I think the city has gotten behind us a million percent,” said Masone.

Kounter has gained national recognition over its first few months, including a feature during a CBS Evening News series called “Unifying America” that includes stories of Americans who are trying to cross the racial, cultural and social divides that separate us, according to CBS.