Lett's Set A Spell

Tar Heel Traveler’s passion for sharing stories leads him to downtown Sanford
Jul. 28, 2013 @ 12:00 PM

When WRAL-TV’s Tar Heel Traveler Scott Mason sampled various flavors of ice cream at the Sanford Arts and Vine festival in May, he tasted excellence and smelled a story. Mason was surprised that the ice cream came from a local restaurant and was made by my husband Michael Yarborough. He became excited when he learned Michael was an avid tennis player and long-time teacher of the sport.  

While reporting on TV is Mason’s vocation, playing tennis is his avocation. Mason belongs to a team based at the North Hills Club in Raleigh and travels to other towns and states to compete.

When Mason came to downtown Sanford recently to visit Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream and Grill on McIver Street, he noticed customers canvasing the showcase featuring 30-plus flavors of ice cream and others eagerly eating in the two dining areas. He singled out several people to ask what they liked most about the restaurant. Answers varied: the hamburgers made with real sirloin, the deep fried onion rings, the visits with family and friends, the down home atmosphere, etc. Most folks said they came to the restaurant because it offered the best ice cream in Lee County.     

Mason and videographer Robert Meikle surveyed the memorabilia on the wall and the mementos in cabinets to discover the background of a business that started out in 1926 as a dairy farm and milk-processing plant in the Osgood community. After a fire in 1933, founder Phil Yarborough Sr. moved the business to its current location and later opened three restaurants in town. In 1965, Phil’s son Carol Michael Yarborough Sr. created Yarborough’s Ice Cream on McIver Street.

“We occasionally do stories about old-timey, traditional, mom-and-pop restaurants, and Yarborough’s seemed to fit the bill,” said Mason. “A place that’s been around for decades and run by the same family makes for a good story. Many fun flavors of ice cream made for icing on the cake!   

“The story captures the flavor of Yarborough’s, a place with many loyal customers and dedicated employees.”

While spending two hours at the restaurant, Mason interviewed Carol and his wife Ann about changes in the business through the decades. Mason and the cameraman enjoyed watching son Michael make the ice cream in the back. Michael demonstrated his fervor for creating concoctions like French Silk, Butter Pecan, Black Cherry, and two flavors named after his nieces, Mollie’s Follies and Katie’s Chocolate Malt.   

Another son Tim works with the business, making chicken salad and slaw, and in the cold weather, soup.

The segment on Yarborough’s will air in a Tar Heel Traveler 30-minute special this Monday at 7 p.m. It is the final feature in the show.   

Mason said “every three months, we produce half-hour specials. The theme for our show is food and features hot dog, hamburger, barbecue and ice cream places across the state.

“Viewers might want to sit and watch with pen and pad and write down the names of all the restaurants. They might want to bring a big appetite, too!,” Mason noted.    

The Tar Heel Traveler series airs Mondays through Thursdays at 5:55 p.m. on WRAL-TV (channel 5 in this viewing area), and all the stories are available online at wral.com.

Mason has spent more than 25 years working in television, much of that time with WRAL-TV. In 2007, he became WRAL’s Tar Heel Traveler. This feature series takes viewers along the back roads of North Carolina where Mason meets memorable characters, finds out-of-the-way places, and unearths quirky historical footnotes.   

A veteran reporter, Mason is winner of more than 100 journalism awards, including three National Edward R. Murrow Awards, regional Emmys, the Gabriel Award, the National Headliner Award and two North Carolina TV Reporter of the Year awards. Mason is also the author of a book Tar Heel Traveler: Journeys Across North Carolina.

Meanwhile, folks who love Yarborough’s Ice Cream can enjoy Mason’s spin on this Sanford hot spot. With Mason singing its praises statewide the restaurant will become another reason for visitors to come to our town for the best ice cream in Lee County.  

AlexSandra Lett is a professional speaker and the author of “Natural Living, From Stress to Rest;” “A Timeless Place, Lett’s Set a Spell at the Country Store;” “Timeless Moons, Seasons of the Fields and Matters of the Heart;” “Timeless Recipes and Remedies, Country Cooking, Customs, and Cures;” and “Coming Home to my Country Heart, Timeless Reflections about Work, Family, Health, and Spirit.” Lett can be reached at (919) 258-9299 or LettsSetaSpell@aol.com.