The restaurant's owner, Tom Hellebrand, used to work as a crime scene investigator in Florida. A couple of years ago, he quit his job and moved his entire family to Mount Airy — because he loves the classic television show that much.
"I've seen each episode hundreds of times," says Hellebrand. Is he exaggerating? "No, that's a minimum," he insists. "A thousand times would not be an exaggeration."
Hellebrand says his obsession is all about honoring the show. That's why after actor Don Knotts died earlier this year, he got to thinking: Mount Airy has a bronze statue of Andy and Opie. So why not Knotts' character, Barney?
To Hellebrand, "Barney was the 'Andy Griffith Show.' He's the one who made you laugh. He's the one who made you think. I just love Barney Fife."
There's certainly no doubting his sincerity, and Hartman reports that's why the rest of Hellebrand's story pained him. The rights to the Fife character are owned by CBS, and after initially giving him written permission to raise funds and hire a sculptor, the network apparently reconsidered and issued a cease and desist order.
The decision left Barney half-finished, and Hellebrand half-broke. To the tune of, he says, $10,000.
CBS is passing the buck on this one, saying it's actually Don Knotts' wife and Andy Griffith himself who insisted the project stop. In turn, spokespeople for those parties say it's CBS who has the rights and only the network can say no. This news had Hellebrand thoroughly confused — but genuinely hopeful.
"This whole thing is like an 'Andy Griffith' episode," Hellebrand remarked. "It starts out good. It gets really bad in the middle of the show, but at the end, it gets happy and there's a happy ending."
To that end, Hartman called the CBS public relations office and told them what a shame it would be if this story ended with his saying how CBS is so unsympathetic, the network won't even reimburse Hellebrand the money he lost.
Needless to say, CBS has now decided to reimburse Hellebrand.