Carolina Kitchen is Medford’s newest food spot, and it boasts a homey vibe with bright, open space, old-school Motown music playing in the background and the warm smiles for patrons.

All of these details were by design, says owners Shelly and Kha Wheeler, who began this process over two years ago.

Located in the former Quiznos on Route 112, Kha single-handedly redesigned and constructed the Southern-style restaurant over the last nine months.

“Two years ago it was just a thought,” he said. “And when we had enough money, we decided to start the business.”

The couple never owned a restaurant before. The concept came up when they started noticing a lack of comfort food in the area.

“People are saying that there’s nothing like this out here,” Shelly said. “This is home cooked. You feel good when you leave here, and we’re here to feed your soul.”

Officially opening on Dec. 9, the pair was shocked after seeing the response they had their first week. The first day they opened, they ran out of chicken; they weren’t expecting the 400 bodies they ended up feeding by the time they closed.

“We thought we were going to go really slow and get our feet wet,” Shelly told GreaterPatchogue. “It was just amazing.”

The Wheelers decided to go with Southern-styled comfort food as a homage to Kha’s late grandmother, who hailed from North Carolina.

“I used to watch my grandma cook and we started to get her recipes,” he said. “My wife is a great cook… whenever we have a party, people are asking what she’s making because they won’t come otherwise,” he laughed.

After retrieving his grandmother’s recipes, the husband and wife began to practice getting the meals just right.

Now that they’re open, his family members are proud to be honoring their legacy through food.

“They’re very amazed,” he said.

“Nobody in the family has every done anything like this,” he added. “If my grandmother were here, I know she’d be proud right from when the doors first opened from when we officially signed the lease; I know she’d say ‘wow.’”

Since opening just three weeks ago, they’re still ironing out the kinks.

At first, they decided to open up seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although Kha said he loves the breakfast, they decided to halt that to focus on the busy rushes of lunch and dinner.

“Until people really know that we’re a staple,” Shelly said, “Then I think breakfast will be good… We decided to hold off on that, just for now.”

Two things customers keep coming back for are Carolina Kitchen’s fried chicken and mac and cheese.

“It’s because of the flavor,” he said. “You feel at home here.”

Located next door to the Comfort Inn, Kha said hotel guests have been stopping in, some from down south. And even they are impressed.

“They tell me that this is awesome,” he said. “And they always leave smiling.”

Carolina Kitchen is continuing to expand its menu, and when the weather is nice, they’ll offer outdoor seating as well.

Their current hours are noon until 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Kha said he’s considering opening up Sundays in the near future.

“I want to give a special thank you to my wife,” Kha said. “She’s my motivation and this couldn’t have been done without her.”

Carolina Kitchen is located at 2717A NY-112, Medford.

All photos by Julianne Mosher