Originally created 03/09/99

Restaurant awaits auction block



NORTH AUGUSTA -- The tables at Seven Gables Restaurant remained dressed for patrons Monday, green cloth napkins folded neatly at each place setting and the steak sauce and mustard nearby for their request.

But the restaurant door has been locked since May.

The parking lot outside has remained bare, and the adjoining motel hasn't registered a guest since the summer. And none of that will change soon.

The motel and restaurant, more notorious as the Buffalo Room restaurant where black patrons were refused service a decade ago, won't be auctioned off by federal officials for some time.

It was only last month when a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, sentenced restaurant and motel owner Randy David Salter to spend nearly 11 years in jail for transporting marijuana between Texas and South Carolina and money laundering.

As part of the Feb. 11 plea agreement, Mr. Salter forfeited his ownership to the property on Georgia Avenue.

Now the federal government must file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking the right to seize the property as illegally financed with drug proceeds.

Officials have already filed a suit against Mr. Salter to seize more than $11,000 cash, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Monterrey Explorer cabin cruiser.

Those items were taken from his Edgefield home after his arrest last May.

But the paperwork is expected to keep the restaurant and motel off the auction block for several months, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marvin Caughman said Monday.

For North Augusta administrator Charles Martin, the sooner the property is auctioned, the better.

"We would certainly like to see it put to a useful service for the community," he said Monday.

The restaurant has a long history of controversy, first as the Buffalo Room where Mr. Salter's father, Bruce Salter, blocked six black NAACP and government officials from eating at the establishment in October 1989.

As punishment, the state Alcohol and Beverage Commission pulled the eatery's liquor license.

There had been complaints about the Buffalo Room's racist policy for 10 years.

After being shuttered for several years, the restaurant reopened in November 1996 as Seven Gables with Randy Salter and his brother James as owners.

By agreement with the state Department of Revenue, the elder Mr. Salter and his wife, Rose, were barred from entering the restaurant or participating in its operation.

Deeds were later put in the name of Randy D. Salter alone. But he was arrested in Corpus Christi last May on drug charges, followed by a raid on his Edgefield home. Local, state and federal officials seized narcotics, weapons, explosives and documents used to show Mr. Salter was dealing drugs.

In July, Rose Salter filed a mortgage foreclosure complaint against her sons in Aiken County Court of Common Pleas, claiming to hold a promissory note worth $75,000.

She was demanding to get the money after the auction, but she dismissed the suit a month later for unspecified reasons.

Greg Rickabaugh covers police for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.