Holding back tears, West Side Bowery owner Sam Erb announced the Bowery will close Aug. 31, and a Mellow Mushroom will take its place.

West Side Bowery, located in The Alley at 151 Bee Lane, evolved from what was nothing to a successful restaurant owned by Erb and his family for 32 years, he said.

“First off, I want to thank Aiken and all the patrons of the West Side Bowery,” Erb said. “It's been some journey, from being 21 years old, from where we are today. I first have to thank my family, especially my wife Donna.”

Erb also thanked his staff members for their dedication, loyalty and determination in keeping the Bowery one of the most successful restaurants in Aiken.

On behalf of Mellow Mushroom, new owner Shawn Ledford thanked Erb and said, when visiting Aiken 10 years ago, he knew this is where he wanted his restaurant to open.

Ledford said in keeping with Aiken, Mellow Mushroom will encompass the city's downtown personality, but residents will be able to tell it is a Mellow Mushroom. Mellow Mushroom is expected to open in February 2014.

Originally from Philadelphia, Erb started working in the restaurant business, beginning in junior high and high school as a dishwasher, then moving up to cook and server. Erb said at first, everyone considered him crazy to open up a restaurant in an alley, which was not known as an alley to walk around in.

“It was a little rough,” Erb said. He said there was a small pool room, and the police department was right next door in what is now the Municipal Building. “They called it the 'bloody bucket' because it was known to have fights outside,” Erb said.

The restaurant's name came from a simple Webster's Dictionary search. Bowery comes from a lower section in Manhattan, notorious for petty criminals, drunk brawls and wild saloons. However, despite the earlier criticism about the location of his restaurant, Erb said the restaurant business runs through his blood and continues to be rewarding.

Bowery patrons, including Mayor Fred Cavanaugh and City Manager Richard Pearce, voiced their thanks to Erb and his family for creating a wonderful establishment the City of Aiken could enjoy.

“Well, you hate to see it leave,” Cavanaugh said. “This has been one of my favorite places. I knew Sam in the beginning when he was working as a server somewhere else, and he said, 'One of these days I'm going to have a place of my own.' There's a lot of history here, emotion and ambience. It's going to leave a hole in our hearts for a while as we try to get used to it.”

Mellow Mushroom was originally opened in Atlanta in 1974 by three college students looking to start a pizza restaurant. Since then, the franchise exists in 18 states with more than 140 stores.

“It's going to be nice and funky, and it will be different,” Ledford said. “It's going to bring 50 to 60 jobs in this location. We're going to hit everyone in the whole town. Everyone loves Mellow Mushroom. It's a wide range of fun and clientele.”

Erb told the packed house he appreciated everyone for being there and that Mellow Mushroom will be a great investment for Aiken.

“I'm just proud of them,” Erb said. “And, again, I just want to thank y'all very much.”

For more information on West Side Bowery, call 803-648-2900 or visit www.westsidebowery.com.

For more information on Mellow Mushroom, visit www.mellowmushroom.com.

Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard and started in July.

She has a degree in mass communications-journalism from the University of North Carolina Asheville.