When the Steele Pig restaurant shut down indefinitely in September for a variety of upgrades, owner Brandon Atkins didn’t know he’d end up essentially closing the door on an era of dining in downtown Sanford – but in the process, opening a new one.

The restaurant has seen its share of changes in recent history – it became the Steele Pig in 2010 after several years as Bella Bistro, changed hands once in 2014 and again last year – and so when Atkins and his chef, Sam Watson, made last fall’s move, they figured they’d be open again in time for the holidays. But the holidays came and went, and they began to realize that they had an opportunity to do something completely new with the long-standing establishment.

“When we closed in September, we didn’t expect the renovations to take this long,” Watson said. “But we found so much stuff we needed to do, and so we just decided to do it perfect.”

Those things included completely renovating the building’s inside – gone are the carpet and the dropped ceiling. There’s an entirely new seating configuration, a new bar, and new light fixtures, as well as a nook for a prominently-displayed wine rack – and, most importantly, deciding to move forward with a new concept.

“We realized it had to be its own thing,” Atkins said of the move. “It was time to start fresh.”

And so sometime in the next couple of weeks, the Steele Pig will be no more, and Cooper’s Restaurant and Wine Room will take its place. Watson and Atkins, who hope to be open by Valentine’s Day, describe the fare as “elevated southern” – it’ll include things like an aged filet mignon, a bone in ribeye, chicken carbonara, pan seared scallops, blistered tuna, and much more (including the lone holdover from the Pig – its locally-famous shrimp and grits). Watson says they group plans to use the best quality ingredients they can find, to include the wine that is so prominently featured in the restaurant’s name. Vintages from far-flung locales like Oregon, Argentina, California, and Spain will all be available, and with an emphasis on high-quality, tablecloth service, the group expects to make a splash.

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Additionally, Atkins has brought in his brother Barron – who has an extensive background in multiple types of restaurants, including several in New York City (he tended bar for a time and became a crowd favorite at the now-closed-but-somewhat-legendary Limerick House in Manhattan, for example) to manage the place.

“We just want to do everything we can to bring the best quality experience we can,” Barron Atkins said. “It’s going to be the best you can find, and there won’t be any need to drive to Raleigh or somewhere else for a date night. We have a fully-trained staff that’s going to be more like a family group, and we want people to walk away saying that they’ve never had an experience like that not just in Sanford, but anywhere.”

And while setup is not yet complete – Watson and the Atkins brothers are in house every day, getting things ready – the new look is starting to take shape. See a few photos below for a sneak peek: