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Melissa Dooley on Activating Dupree House for Unique Events in Smithfield NC
Episode 313rd June 2024 • Best of Johnston County • Jonathan Breeden
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In this episode of The Best of Johnston County Podcast, I'm joined by Melissa Dooley, the events and marketing coordinator at the Dupree House in Smithfield. We discuss the 120-year-old restored home's transformation into a unique event venue, perfect for intimate gatherings. Melissa shares her background in event planning and provides valuable tips for anyone looking to host a memorable celebration. Discover the charm and versatility of this hidden gem in downtown Smithfield.


Melissa Dooley: [:

It really makes you feel good.



Jonathan Breeden: they need all the local support they can get. The restaurant business and small businesses, as I can attest, is a tough business. And I got a lot of respect for anybody that's ever done it, because I know how much work it is, and I know how many blood, sweat and lots of tears go into building a small business.

And a lot of these people are doing a great job here in Johnston County. They're employing Johnston County. Citizens and residents, that's just great.

And you know, that's part of the reason I'm doing this podcast is, to try to let people know that you don't have to go to Raleigh for anything.

he has called home for over [:

Jonathan Breeden: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Best of Johnson County Podcast. I'm your host, Jonathan Breeden. And today we have with us, Melissa Dooley from the Dupree House in Smithfield. We're going to talk about what the Dupree House is, the events and activities that they have there at the Dupree House. How the Dupree House came to be the event venue that it is, and how it can help you throw the best party of your life at a very unique venue.

Welcome, Melissa.

Melissa Dooley: Thank you.

Jonathan Breeden: Hey, no problem. So, we'll start with, what's your background? Yeah. Where are you from?

Melissa Dooley: Okay. I grew up in Pennsylvania, just north of Pittsburgh, in between Pittsburgh and Erie. So, 19 years there. I did the world tour. We did Florida. Then we did Memphis. Then we did Curitiba, Chesapeake.

it all over the place. So we [:

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Melissa Dooley: So, been here since then. And it's been great. You know, Johnson County has this unique way of just gathering you in and giving you a big hug and not letting you go. I've never experienced it in any other community, ever. And so, it's very unique and I love it.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, that's awesome. So what's your educational background?

Melissa Dooley: I started out in life as a travel agent.

Jonathan Breeden: Hey, that's good. We like travel agents. I love travel agents.

Melissa Dooley: I know. It was a lot of fun. And then, 9/11 happened, and cut that screech and halt. you know, It came to an abrupt stop. The whole travel agency world changed.

I started having babies. So, when I got back into the workforce, I started out as a marketing assistant with a DMG in Clayton.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. I know DMG.

r events coordinator for the [:

And then, that drive got old. And then came back, and got the job with the Dupree House. So now, I'm their events and marketing coordinator.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay, for the Dupree House. So, you have lots of marketing in your background. It sounds like, well, That's awesome. So, let's talk a little bit about the Dupree House. I guess, the first question is, what is it and where is it?

Melissa Dooley: It's an old house. It's 120 year old house. And it used to be a private residence, and then they sold it to a person that made it into a Day Spa. So, it was hair and nails and massages. And then, from there, they sold it to Gabriella, who owns Chefella's. And she's in Clayton, currently. But she had the lunch counter there for a while.

s. So, if you want to have a [:


Jonathan Breeden: That's cool. And the Dupree House is in downtown Smithfield. I think, it's on 3rd street. It's about three blocks from the courthouse. And it's a beautiful house. And


I mean, Downtown Smithfield is beautiful, in general. And if you've not had a chance to drive by it or just drive down 3rd street with the old houses or even 1st street, on the, over next to the river, or the old houses on 2nd and 3rd Street in Downtown Smithfield, they are absolutely beautiful. A lot of very well kept yards in that world. And I used to go to Dupree house and have lunch when it was Chefella's, all the time, because I was always in the courthouse. And it had the best chicken salad in the world.

ch is great. Very nice lady. [:

So, the Dupree House was restored, I guess, back to its original. It's about as original, as any of these old houses get.

Melissa Dooley: Right. It's not historic marker. It's not been put on the historic places, which is a good thing for us. Cause then, we can renovate, as we need.

If it's a historic, then you've got to go through this whole thing. But it does, we have kept its integrity. So, when you come into the house, you're like, Oh, okay, it's chopped up. Here's the living room. Here's the kitchen. So, that's what the old houses did. They did different rooms for different things.


Jonathan Breeden: But it also has a huge back porch.

Melissa Dooley: It does.

I mean,

Jonathan Breeden: the deck is huge.

Melissa Dooley: Yeah, it is. And you can get married, you can have parties, we can have bands there. We have a pergola on one corner where people get married, you know, have the officiant right there, and have the audience, facing them. So, it's really picturesque.


nto the neighbor's backyard. [:

The Dupree House is not that. We hold 70 people, seven zero. So, it is for smaller events, it's not for the big, huge celebrations. yeah, And that's the way we like it, you know, the smaller, the better.

Jonathan Breeden: Right. the landscaping there? It looks like something out of a magazine. I mean, Who does that? Do you do that? Are you out there doing the gardening?

Melissa Dooley: No. Thank goodness, we hire out. And honestly, I don't know who that is.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. That's fine. I mean, I just, find it fascinating. I don't know how they get all those flowers and azaleas to bloom.

But clearly, there was clearly design on this landscaping. And there's a plan and somebody works very hard on it.

It's just not worth it. No,

Melissa Dooley: no, no, no,

Jonathan Breeden: no.

Melissa Dooley: I love digging in the dirt, but that's not me.

Jonathan Breeden: That's not you. So, let's talk about some different types of events y'all have. You definitely have weddings.

Melissa Dooley: Yeah. We actually have not had a wedding there yet.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, you've not had a wedding yet. Okay.

his airs, we will have had a [:

Jonathan Breeden: Yeah, I guess. I mean, it would be a very small wedding, I guess, if you're capped at 70 people.

Melissa Dooley: Yeah. It's this vow renewal would have happened. It's a little bit smaller. And then, the second weddings.

you know, Second weddings, right?

Yeah, second weddings. We get a lot of requests for those.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, that's cool. You also do corporate events.

Melissa Dooley: Yes.

Jonathan Breeden: You have like a a a boardroom and stuff like that?

, and we can definitely host [:

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Melissa Dooley: Yeah,

Jonathan Breeden: I got you. And you also charge people to come take photos there?

I know, photo shoots is a thing because you have all these beautiful flowers, you have this old house, it's painted beautifully. I mean, it looks like. something that would be great if you were getting prom pictures, or,

engagement pictures, or anything like that. To me, it looks like it'd be a great place to get your picture taken.

Melissa Dooley: It's a beautiful backdrop. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We would charge $50 an hour to do that, a 2 hour minimum. So, a hundred bucks. And you have the run of the place inside, outside, upside down, all that stuff. So, whatever you want to do, but yeah.

Jonathan Breeden: So you allow, you can bring any photographer you want.

Melissa Dooley: Any photographer you want. Yeah.

And the other reason we charge is, because I have to be there. You know, Make sure that everything's good. If you need anything, I can get it for you. If you want this, that, and the other. Yeah.

Jonathan Breeden: So, how many people come get their picture taken there?

Melissa Dooley: So far, we've had proms.

Jonathan Breeden: Proms, yeah.

Melissa Dooley: We've had the engagement photos.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

ras. They like to have their [:

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. Well, that's cool. That's cool. Yeah. It's,

but I mean, I guess, what changes in ownerships and business models, how long has it been this sort of event venue to Dupree House? Cause I mean, Chefella's wasn't really doing events, it was more like a restaurant. But you're not doing a restaurant, you're doing events. So, explain how that came?

to be.

Melissa Dooley: Honestly they just started. It's only been like maybe, a year, and a half that they've opened it up to events.

JCAR saw it. They needed a headquarters for the realtor business. And so then, they saw this big, huge opportunity, because they have all this empty space. What are we going to do with it? So, that's when they decided to rent it out, and do events there. So that's how that came about.

Jonathan Breeden: I got you. Well, I mean, I mean, it makes sense. Do you work for the Johnson, the realtors, or you work for a different person who rents the space from them?

Melissa Dooley: I work essentially for the realtor, JCAR.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, you [:

Is she an event person or is she the realtor person, or is she, kind of here? you're in charge of the realtor group? And by the way, here's an event.

Melissa Dooley: No, she's definitely JCAR. She's got it going on as far as that goes. She's fantastic. She really advocates for the realtors.

And she hired me to do the events because she doesn't want to do them. She doesn't want anything to do with them. And she says, you're perfect for this. So, here you go.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. Oh, that's great. So, how long have you been doing the events there with the Dupree House?

Melissa Dooley: The Dupree House, since October '23.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Melissa Dooley: Yep. I've been doing events for 5 years in Selma. I worked there for a long time. And then, like I said, I was in Rocky Mount with the chamber there, and I did events there. So, I do a lot of those. I love that. you know, The devil's in the detail with the events. And once you have one under your belt, you know, your checklist to go through, and you just get it done.

n: Yeah. So, I, you'd be the [:

Melissa Dooley: Amateur planners, of course, miss a lot of stuff.

Like I said earlier, it's the devil is in the details. You have got to make sure, your timeline is done. You've got to make sure, your list of supplies is done. You've got to make sure that you've got everything there. Because if you need a light and you forgot to order the lights, now what do you do?

Right. So,

The only thing you can't control is the weather. That and, but I've got a direct line. You got to order it early, to get the good guy upstairs.

Jonathan Breeden: To give you a good whether, right?

Melissa Dooley: o but that's it.

it just, You got to make lists and you got to check through them. You got to be on it.

Well, What are the top 5 things that need to be on an event planners checklist?

e the, event venue is clean, [:

The next one would be, does everybody know when they're supposed to be there?

Jonathan Breeden: That's the point. That's a really good point.

And the second,

Melissa Dooley: The third thing would be, probably, parking. you know, That's always an issue. Our venue itself is a downtown one. So, people want to park in front of the neighbor's driveway. Well, You can't do that. They're not happy when they come out of their house and need to go grocery shopping and you're in their way. So, that's number three.

Number four would probably be, your vendors, like your caterer, your flowers, your cake, all of those do, is that lined up? Do they have the right date? Do they have the right time?

And then the last one is, to tip your event planner. Make sure she is taken care of.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Melissa Dooley: I mean,

Jonathan Breeden: that seems reasonable.

Melissa Dooley: I mean,

Jonathan Breeden: Tim, the event planner,

Melissa Dooley: I mean,

Jonathan Breeden: it's a ton of work. And the good ones make it look easy.

se things off. They're worth [:

Chefella's is not there. So, whenever y'all are doing event, who are y'all using for some of the food?

Well, Mostly, we call SoDoSoPa. We put it out there to other caterers that are on our list, and mostly SoDoSoPa comes through. They have it going on. They've got a great system going.

Melissa Dooley: We would love, if you're a caterer and you're watching this, we would contact me. We would love to get you on our preferred list. Just let me know.

Jonathan Breeden: Yeah. And SoDoSoPa is a restaurant in downtown Smithfield, right there. It's one block from the courthouse. Another place I've been to eat because we're the courthouse, downtown Smithfield eating expert. Because I'm going to lunch uh,

you know, when I'm off, when I'm at the courthouse. and

the restaurant itself is New Orleans style, kind of Southern cuisine. I mean, it's,

Melissa Dooley: They're known for the smoked meat,

Jonathan Breeden: you know, right.

Melissa Dooley: and the Southern, yeah, definitely Southern.

It's good stuff.

e cornbread. Oh my goodness. [:

Melissa Dooley: Pancakes. Right.

Pancakes. I think, they call them, but Oh, they're good.

Jonathan Breeden: So, if you're listening to this, you're looking for a,

another restaurant to try here in Johnston County. I would love to have you visit their location there on 3rd Street, down at Smithfield, right across from the Howell Theater, which is for sale.

Melissa Dooley: I know.

Jonathan Breeden: I don't know who's going to buy it. And I don't know if it's going to remain a theater or it might be turned into office space. So, I don't want to buy it. I don't have the money to buy it. but, But I am fascinated as to what's going to happen because it's such a critical part of that block in Smithfield, and it's been there for so long.

And the family memories of going to the Howell theater, and the dollar popcorn, and you can't get popcorn anywhere anymore.

Melissa Dooley: Of course, Ava, the most famous person that was there, Ava Gardner.

Jonathan Breeden: Right, at the Ava Gardner museum. Yeah. And, of course that's a fascinating place, if you've not been to Ava Gardner museum. And I didn't know much about Ava Gardner before I moved to Johnson County, but I've been to the museum. And the grave in Smithfield, Yeah, it was really a fascinating. The dresses, and the different movies she was in.

Melissa Dooley: 57 movies.

I mean, it was crazy, right? [:

I know, we had, Chris Johnson on. He's has a business there, jewels in downtown Smithfield. He used to be the head of the Software Development Association. We also had Donald O'Meara on a few episodes ago. His office is there in downtown Smithfield, right across. He's a realtor, but he's on that board. And of course, they do the Ham & Yam Festival, which is always the first weekend in May.

So anyway, yeah, it's a lot of stuff going on in Smithfield. If you've not been down there, I would highly encourage you to go. There's tons of great restaurants and things to do in downtown Smithfield. So far, I hope, it helps y'all do some of the catering.

Who do y'all like to use for the flowers?

ther thing. That's up to the [:

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Melissa Dooley: Yeah, we have fake flowers. I got used to put on our tables. But as far as the florist goes, that's up to the person.

Jonathan Breeden: I got you.

Melissa Dooley: Nobody special there.

Jonathan Breeden: Right. Y'all also we're doing a brunches. I know, you're gonna do a Mother's Day brunch. This episode will not air before Mother's Day. But, what other types of special things are y'all going to do throughout the year?

Melissa Dooley: So, we had a Barbie and me tea. It was for 3 or 3-6 year old girls to come with their Barbies and drink tea. Oh, we had so much fun. And then, we did an Easter egg hunt. And now, we're doing the Mother's Day brunch happened. And so, in the fall, in the summer, it's going to be a little bit, cause people are on vacation. They don't really look to do stuff in their own town. They look to vacation.

g. If anybody has any ideas, [:

Jonathan Breeden: Okay, I got you.

Melissa Dooley: And then, we'll do an ugly sweater contest.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, okay. An ugly sweater contest. All right.

Melissa Dooley: Yep. Ugly sweater party contest. Yeah.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay, Christmas. That sounds like fun. And I know, you're going to try out a concert series in May. This probably won't maybe not run before that concert. I guess the last one scheduled right now is June 2nd. So, this may not run before that, but is that something, if it's successful, you may continue into the future?

Melissa Dooley: Exactly. Yeah.

Jonathan Breeden: Tell them what your plan is and what you might be doing.

Melissa Dooley: Okay. So, we're starting out with 4 dates, April 28th, May 5th, May 19th and June the 2nd. If they turn out good and we get a lot of feedback, they go, Hey, keep doing this. Then we will, we'll extend it over through July and August.

Jonathan Breeden: So what's the concept?

Casalett, and we've got Zach [:

So, those are the types of acts that we like, somebody that can stand alone and do a variety of music. And it just basically is, to do something on a Sunday. Right. Yeah. Right.

Jonathan Breeden: So, big music.

Melissa Dooley: Yeah.

Jonathan Breeden: Are you gonna have food?

Melissa Dooley: Yeah. We'll have snacks. We'll have mini charcuterie boards and we'll have snacks. We'll have popcorn, peanuts. And then, you can do wine and beer.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay. Is there a cost of entry or you just buy what you want to drink?

Melissa Dooley: Yep. Just buy, it's a cash bar, so buy what you want to drink,

and we'll see if it works, if it works, we'll keep going. But if it's not, and it's fizzling out, then we'll just try something else.

Well, So, anybody listening to this, we'll definitely need to check back at y'all's website. The, right? To see about you know, the events coming up, including future brunches taught like Mother's Day. And to see if the concert series is going to continue in to July and August, after its initial run there in May and early June.

at this. You've, been on the [:

not really a porch, but deck, you know what I mean? Well,

Melissa Dooley: My job is to activate it. My job is, to let people know that it's now an event space because they keep remembering that it used to be a lunch counter or the Day Spa.

So, I have to change their mind, introduce them to what we're doing to it now. And so, I'm trying to activate the space. I'm just trying to get people there. Because the more people that know about it, the more people that come, the more that we can get this going, and really take off with the events and stuff.

That's what they hired me for.

Jonathan Breeden: That's awesome.

consultation. Remember, when [:

Melissa Dooley: Well, you lived in Johnson County for 18 years now. What are some of your favorite restaurants? I love to ask people this. And I always learn something new. I learned, I mean, Every time I asked this question, I learned a restaurant. I write it down and I got to go visit.

Okay. So, I just discovered this one place. It's Selma Mini Mart, on Anderson Street. So, if you're coming on 301 and you're going into Selma, you take a left on Anderson. You go all the way down.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Melissa Dooley: They have what they call hibachi fries. It's their best seller. It is a pile of fries. And they put some cheese on there, they put white sauce and they put some kind of sauce that just addicting. All right. And then, they put steak and chicken, and you can add shrimp. So this thing, I'm not kidding. it can feed probably 4 people.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh, my goodness. Okay.

Melissa Dooley: And it is so good. It is so good.

Jonathan Breeden: Selma Mini Mart. Selma

's in the Mini Mart. Like in [:


Melissa Dooley: It's a greasy spoon kind of place. Okay. You know. I got you. And he gets people from all over. He got people from out of state, that saw him on Facebook. And they're coming down for these hibachi fries.

Jonathan Breeden: Okay.

Melissa Dooley: Let me tell you, my mouth is watering.

Jonathan Breeden: Oh my goodness. That's awesome. I've never heard of that.

Melissa Dooley: So, that's a hole in the wall. Okay. That's a secret. And then, the other secret is Mama Nem's in Selma. Those are my two favorites.

Jonathan Breeden: Where's that at in Selma?

Melissa Dooley: In Selma, it's on the corner of Rayford and Anderson.

Jonathan Breeden: What do they serve?

Melissa Dooley: They're soul food. And yeah, he's got his soul food egg roll things that he has. And his collards and his pimento cheese, oh my goodness. Yes. Okay. If you like soul food, Mama Nem's is your place.

e in downtown. And these are [:

Jonathan Breeden: I'm hoping that we'll have the mayor of Selma on here in a few weeks. So, those of y'all listening, keep listening. We're hoping to get him on. But there's a lot of great things going on in Selma right now, as well, with the antiques. They now have the ice cream place.

If you, The Vault has just opened up, Quantum Toad just opened up. So, you're getting these people that come in and they invest. They don't buy just one building. No. They're buying 3 and 4 buildings. No, they,

Melissa Dooley: that's right. Right. Yes. And so, they're refurbishing 'em, they're repurposing 'em. Selma's going through a renaissance. It's fantastic. If you haven't been in a while, you need to go because this place is happening .

Jonathan Breeden: Well, And it's not a coincidence that the Downtown EL is getting the development, as you see what Adventure Development is doing with North State Food Hall, which is also Selma.

, right? They're all of [:

They're all 10 or 11 of them are phenomenal. The vendors are changing. They're always changing the menu. They just hired Colleen Roby, who used to own Simple Twists, to be the new general manager there. So excited about what she'll do. I mean, We know, what a phenomenal restaurant or person she is, and how great Simple Twists was when she owned it.

Selma, it's not the Selma of 20 years ago. And I think, people need to recognize that in Johnston County. It's becoming a little bit of a foodie place, just like we talked about SoDoSoPa. Like There's so many of these places that are just as good as any place you'd ever go in Raleigh. And the right here in Johnston County, locally old, local employees. Most of them are locally sourcing what they're serving now.

Melissa Dooley: It's so important to keep that local going, to recycle that money throughout the community, and it makes your community tighter too. When you can get to know the restaurant owners the way you can with these small businesses, it's fantastic.

It really makes you feel good.

l the local support they can [:

And a lot of these people are doing a great job here in Johnston County. They're employing Johnston County. Citizens and residents, that's just great.

And you know, that's part of the reason I'm doing this podcast is, to try to let people know that you don't have to go to Raleigh for anything.


I mean, Yeah, maybe for work, but like everything else that you could want to have is in Johnston County.

Melissa Dooley: Yeah, probably not even work.

Jonathan Breeden: All the new jobs and the industry's coming here and the expansion. The new Amazon is now open, right there on 70 and Smithfield. So, that's great.

The last question we always ask everybody on this, podcast, know, it's coming. what do you love most about Johnston County?

erybody. you know, They talk [:

you know? So, that's what it is. It's that small town feel. And to feel a part of it, I have been a part of other communities that just don't have that. And it's a blessing when you have it. Yeah. And,

Jonathan Breeden: and,

Melissa Dooley: you know,

Jonathan Breeden: that's,

Melissa Dooley: you know,

Jonathan Breeden: we're. 28, 29 episodes into this.


that's what everybody says. And that's what I think,

Melissa Dooley: you know,

Jonathan Breeden: and it's one of the reasons we started the podcast is because it is about the people and it's a way to spotlight the people in their businesses and to educate the public about that.

There's all this great things in Johnson County and you don't have to go to Wake County for anything and you can stay right here and sort of as Chris Johnson always talks about. Turn those cars around.

Yeah, keep them

here in Johnson County. Shopping local, supporting local business.

Melissa Dooley: And

Jonathan Breeden: well,

Melissa Dooley: thank you for doing this.


Jonathan Breeden: thank you. I appreciate you coming in.

Melissa Dooley: It takes time and money for you to do it. And we appreciate that. And it's educating and it's letting people know what's going on.


Jonathan Breeden: So if people want to reach out to you at the Dupree House,


how would they find out? How would they book something like we talked about?

What do they do?


Jonathan Breeden: All right.

Melissa Dooley: Well,

Jonathan Breeden: we

like to thank Melissa for coming on and being with us here today on the best of johnson county podcast If this is your first time listening, please like subscribe or follow our podcast wherever you're seeing this whether it be on apple Podcast Spotify, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, or any of our other social media channels, so that you'll be aware of all future episodes of the Best of Johnson County Podcast.

The Best of Johnson County Podcast comes out every Monday, so be listening for future episodes. And if you like, follow, and subscribe, you'll be notified Every Monday when the new episodes come out, if this is your first time listing, go back and listen to some of the previous episodes of the best of Johnson County podcast.

We've had a lot of really interesting guests, including Patrick Harris, Johnson County commissioner, Chris



Mistakes he sees young families make in financial planning.

Tim Sims talked about things you can do to


better your mouth and dentistry.

lots of educational stuff. If you go back and listen to the previous episodes of the Best of Johnson County podcast. And,

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So future people will know more about the best of Johnson County podcast and they can find it

and learn to listen to it just like you're listening to it today. So until next time, I'm your host Jonathan Breeden Thanks a lot.

s community next week. Every [:

If the legal aspects highlighted raised some questions, help is just around the corner at www. breedenfirm. com.





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