Mary and the Restaurant Business

We met Mary in an earlier post. Her restaurants, Mary’s Of Course and now Breakfast of Course (recently renamed, Mary’s Gourmet Diner), are beloved in Winston-Salem. Mary is grateful to be working in a business she loves while employing her family and many others. Below, she gets real about the ups and downs of the restaurant industry and about being a business owner.

Did you always want to start a business? I wanted to have a restaurant. We used to play restaurant when we were kids. We didn’t eat out much, so it was a treat. I’ve always worked in restaurants because it was easy to come and go with children. With time, I learned how to cook; my mother taught me frugality. Then I started to work in restaurants that were into fine dining, where I learned from chefs. Thirty years ago I decided wanted to open a restaurant, but I didn’t have money. There was no way. I was in my early forties, and I was waiting tables and making good money doing that.

In terms of my dreams, I had two: one was to open a restaurant. The other was to get a degree and help people with substance abuse problems. So I went to a tarot card reader and told her these two things. And she said, “let’s look at them.” The reader said that I would be successful in both, but the restaurant was a blessed venture. But I ignored it and went to school. And yet, I still wanted to open a restaurant. I bugged my parents to put up something for collateral and began to look for a location, but I couldn’t find anything. It was hopeless. So I gave up looking and went back to school. Then a friend came to me that owned a café and said that she would like to sell her café so she could get a medical operation. So, that’s what I did. She got her operation, I got the restaurant. My parents put up their apartment building for collateral so that I could get the loan, which is really awesome because most restaurants don’t make it, but they believed in me.

Do you/did you have other ideas of businesses you want/wanted to start or that you think someone else should start? Any that you’d be willing to share? I’m actually in the process of developing something else, but I don’t know if it’s going to work. I want to have a vegetarian food truck. Vegetarian food is my passion – I love to cook it, and I love to eat it. I didn’t want to open another restaurant; it’s too much overhead. So I am in the process of pursuing it, and we’ll see what happens.

What’s the best thing about owning a business? The best thing is having complete creative license. I get up and go to work; I’m in my 13th year. I go to work every morning and love what I do.

I find that owning a restaurant is like having children – it’s the best thing you’ll ever do, and it’s the worst thing you’ll ever do. It’s that extreme thing all in one. I am so thankful that I get to do what I do. It’s so beautiful and yet so hard. You do it because it’s your passion; there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

I would have been bored as a counselor. As a recovering addict, I need an edge in my life, and I need a challenge. And this is a challenge. It’s never easy, but I guess this is what I like.

Any failure or hardship that you’d be willing to share? I don’t believe in failure. I’m a risk taker by nature. I’m telling you, over the past 13 years there have been so many times where my restaurant was two breaths away from shutting down. I’ve been to the edge so many times… it’s just part of being in business. And I’m sure that any business owner who is honest with you will tell you that. It’s always been hard, and it’s always been a struggle. What we did at the little location [Mary’s Of Course]: it was tiny, off the beaten path; it was crowded, the a/c never worked… it was a magical phenomenon what happened there. No matter what happens, I know that I was successful because we took a tiny corner spot and had lines out the door. We were in Southern Living! There have been so many unexpected things, and it’s so wonderful. So yes, I’ve had many hard times, but so many unexpected things have happened, too.

I see obstacles as a challenge. As long as they don’t lock me out, I am going to keep coming to work every day. You just have to be tenacious and keep going. Woody Allen said something I’ve never forgotten: “90% of success is just showing up.” No matter what, you get up, get in your car, and do your best. Every day I go, I am thankful. I do the best job that I can and put my heart and soul into it.

What’s the best piece or two of advice you would give to entrepreneurs just starting out in the restaurant business? Ask them: 1) Have you ever worked in a restaurant? If they say no, I tell them to go work in a restaurant for five years, in every type of business. People think it’s a glamorous job – it’s not. It’s just plain old hard work. It’s hot in the kitchen, you have to deal with angry customers, and people want money. Nobody understands how it changes when it’s your responsibly. You’re responsible to the city and your partners. Every plate of food that sits in front of a customer… I am responsible for every part of that – the music, the food temperature, etc. My name is on the door, and people associate this business with me, and it’s on my shoulders. So you better have some pretty big shoulders, because it’s a lot of responsibly. Don’t forget about it when you walk out the door, either. It’s with you 24/7. I’m a little bit of an insomniac, and sometimes I’ll wake up and write down ideas and new menus.

The second question I ask people is if it’s their passion. If you are looking to make money, then owning a restaurant is the wrong path.

What do you like best about owning a business in the Triad? Winston-Salem is a city, but it’s a small city. I feel like we were ground breaking 12 years ago. I really like being down on Trade Street now. We have a real tight-knit community in the Arts District; we are all really supportive of each other. My customers are loyal to me. Wake Forest is my number one supporter. There is also Salem College, the School of the Arts, Winston-Salem State, and the community in the Arts District. We also have the working people who come down to eat. Winston is filled with real friendly people. It’s a good place to have a business.

What is your biggest challenge? Right now, especially in this economy, it’s keeping enough people coming in to pay the bills. That’s challenging, keeping all that stuff going forward. People don’t know how much goes on behind the scenes just to keep the place open. There’s so much stuff – the insurance, payroll taxes are huge, to getting someone to come clean the grease trap. We don’t get corporate tax breaks. The city says they want small business, but I don’t think they look at how hard they make it for us with regulations. It’s really difficult. The second challenging thing is dealing with staff issues. But the number one challenge is the financial aspect.

Anything else you’d like to share?  I hope people understand, and this is definitely something that’s come to the forefront: people in our communities need to support local food, which has always been close to my heart because I’m an old hippie. It’s so much better for your body and spirit. They need to support local businesses, no matter if it’s food or a store. If we don’t support these local businesses it’s going to be Applebees and McDonald’s. I wish people would stop shopping at these corporate businesses, but I don’t think it’s heading that direction, especially in the suburbs. Keep our cities live, interesting, and local.

More Than Just a Restaurant

We met 26-year-old Vansana Nolintha, owner of Bida Manda in an earlier post. Now, he talks to us about his Laotian restaurant, including how created a destination restaurant filled with culture, food and community.

Did you always want to start a business? No. I went to N.C. State for chemistry, and I studied design. After that I went to Europe and got a Master’s degree, so, academically, it wasn’t what I planned. I’ve traveled a ton – to over 30 countries – so I never thought I would settle down in one place.  But after I finished at Trinity College, I came back to Raleigh and knew it was a place I wanted to settle down. And now I think there is something wonderful in immersing yourself in a community.

I knew I wanted to do something with people, my Laotian past, and my academic history. Those three elements were the heart of my studies. And it just happened that Bida Manda is the manifestation of all of that. I get to be with people on an everyday basis; I enjoy hosting and telling my stories.

I would be lying if I said opening a restaurant wasn’t a part of the plan… it just wasn’t part of the plan now. The family that my sister and I lived with in Greensboro had restaurants. So I was working in restaurants and hospitality – it has always been a part of my life. In Laos, my parents had a guest house where they were constantly hosting people and having people drop by. I always thought when I was older, like 40 or 50, that I would open a restaurant or do something with culture and food. But if I didn’t do it now, Bida Manda would always be a dream. When the idea started, people jumped on it and started nurturing it until this place came to be. It truly has become a community effort; every single element is hand-crafted.

There’re very few things that can connect people on an intimate level very quickly, and I think food is one of them. One of my favorite things is watching people’s faces when they have Laotian food for the first time. Seeing their discovery is something that keeps me going every day. Bida Manda has become that for people, where they discover something new – whether it’s a new culture or taste. And we want Bida Manda to always be that for people.

Do you/did you have other ideas of businesses you want/wanted to start or that you think someone else should start? Any that you’d be willing to share? I think the food truck industry needs to grow in Raleigh. I think downtown, especially, is on the edge of becoming one of the best downtowns in the country. One of its limitations is the food truck industry. It’s not something I would do, but I think someone should. It brings such a diverse community to downtown. Food trucks enable young entrepreneurs to take what they believe in and run with it. It’s not as intimidating as running a restaurant.

What’s the best thing about owning a business? That you are responsible for your own success and failure – you really can craft your life. Working for yourself allows you to be very intentional about the choices you make. I think it’s not new to me because I’m a designer, but when you stand in front of a design and fully hold yourself accountable to the final product, you are accountable. Owning a business is the same in the sense that you are responsible. There’s something empowering about that.

Any failure or hardship that you’d be willing to share? We did not anticipate to be so busy so early. Therefore, we did not put the infrastructure in place to handle that kind of traffic. So the first couple of weeks were very, very challenging. We were understaffed and under-prepared management-wise. But we have the best team, and everyone at Bida Manda sees this not just as a job, but also as a project, so people stuck with it. After five weeks, we feel like we have a system. And we are just so thankful to have that following. The restaurant industry is scary, and we are grateful every day that the community opened their hearts to us and gave us a shot.

What’s the best piece or two of advice you would give to entrepreneurs just starting out? Just be very intentional about time: don’t rush; think everything through. They need to ask themselves why they want to do what they want to do. And write it out. One of the biggest resources was our business plan. Our plan wasn’t so much about income or cash flow in a given month. We identified what we wanted to do and how this place should feel. The more meaningful the business plan becomes, the more you have something to rely on. Every day has tons of decisions. If you don’t have a solid business plan, you can easily go astray from your original vision. We go back to our business plan, and we make decisions that go beyond cash flow.

What do you like best about being a part of the food community here? I think people around here appreciate when restaurants are focused. And when I say focused, I mean not only about their genre but the ingredients that they use. Some places have two or three products that they take pride in. It’s like older restaurants that used to take pride in that. Our community really appreciates that. If you have good, honest products, people will appreciate it.

What is your biggest challenge? I think because we are one of the first Laotion restaurants in the country, we have this opportunity to be a cultural investor for Laos and for the Laotian. Besides offering great food and great service, we have to be graceful and gentle about the product we are serving. It’s not just selling a dish, it’s telling a story to people who know very little about our story.

Anything else you would like to share? We are just so thankful every day. I’m 26 years old; my sister just turned 25. It’s incredible that we have this much love and support, that people love us and trust us. Investors trusted us. Customers come and open their hearts to this new project. Especially within our community – this size – that a humble idea can turn into this business. It’s a direct reflection of what this community is, and what the Triangle is about.

Kelly: When a Customer Becomes a Tour Guide

After attending four different Taste Carolina tours, Kelly was a fan of Taste Carolina and the local food scene. And, as it turned out, she was an ideal tour guide. So Kelly made the transition from customer to tour guide, and it’s been fabulous (for us, and we hope for her, too) ever since. Her teaching skills and friendly personality make the Chapel Hill/ Carrboro tours that she leads a delight for all.

Starting with the basics: 

Occupation : Well, I am an elementary reading teacher, but right now I’m on sabbatical. I’m staying home with my toddler. I have an 18-month-old, Paxton. Where are you from? I grew up in Danville, California, which is right outside of the Bay Area. When did you move to North Carolina? I moved here 15 years ago when I finished school at Wake Forest. My parents grew up in Durham, so I’ve always been interested in the area. My dad and step-mom would bring us to Myrtle Beach every summer, and my mom is a proud southerner. She would always try to get Duke games on in California. She and my step-dad now live in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

What do you love best about North Carolina? I always had a desire to discover everything about my own personal history. But now that I’m here, I’m just fascinated by the culture and the people. It’s such a vibrant area. It’s just interesting here. And it’s constantly changing with new people coming in. And, of course, you have the mountains and the beach…. I just think it has so much to offer.

What type of music do you listen to when you’re cooking in the kitchen? I’ve just started cooking since I had my son. I am so not a cook, but I’ve trying to learn . I try to cook when he’s napping, so I usually just try recipes that allow me to keep it quiet. Also, I have to concentrate so much since it’s new to me. I think music would be a distraction.

Top 5 favorite foods? (anything goes) (1) I have a big sweet tooth, so lots of desserts would be at the top of the list – especially chocolate; (2)French fries; (3) I love fruit; (4) I generally like any kind of Mexican food; (5) Sushi rolls.

What is your comfort food? Probably grilled cheese with tomato soup – and a chocolate chip cookie. Or if it’s hot out, I love smoothies. I used to work at smoothie shop in Santa Barbara, and those were the best.

Are there any foods you won’t eat/try? No, and some people are surprised because of my personality, but I I’ll try anything once, and that includes food. I don’t like super hot foods, but I’ll try anything.

What is the last memorable meal you’ve eaten recently? The last meal I cooked that was really good was from Rachel Ray Magazine. It was fettuccine with Italian sausage and kale. It was really yummy; my husband was like, “wow”. We hardly ever eat out anymore, but we recently went to Rue Cler for brunch for my birthday, and it was delicious. Everyone from our family went, and they loved it. I keep telling everyone to go.

The ingredient you currently can’t stop using is: Lately I’ve noticed that anything that has curry in it, I want to try it. I just feel like it’s good with everything. I tried it with fish last week and it was great. If I find something I like I’ll stick with it…  I’ll order anything off a menu if it has the word avocado in it.

You have a day with absolutely no obligations. How do you spend it? Oh gosh, since having my son this hasn’t happened to me. I think I would want to spend the day on me if I didn’t have to take care of my son. So let’s see… I would go get a pedicure, meet my girlfriends for lunch at Toast (I get their goat cheese with honey crostini), then I would probably take a short walk or hike somewhere, and read a book. Oh, and go see a movie.

What are some cooking challenges or techniques you would like to tackle? Oh gosh, I feel like all of it is a challenge right now. It’s a process. Like the other day, I tried to cook tofu for the first time, and I had to throw the first batch out. I didn’t understand what pressing was, so I had to go on YouTube and figure it out. But it didn’t bother me. Now that I’m home and not working, I enjoy getting to experiment with cooking. It feels like, wow, I accomplished something. Another challenge is cooking for my 18-month-old son, because right now he doesn’t like anything. So if I find something, hallelujah. Also, my husband is allergic to chicken and turkey, and it feels like every recipe has chicken in it. So we’re trying meatless dishes.

Who is one person you’d love to cook with? I would definitely want to cook with this season’s winner of Master Chef, Christine.  She is an amazing cook who happens to be blind. I would love to learn how she uses her senses, taste and touch, to create her meals.

Kelly’s list: 

Favorite Restaurant: There are too many good ones! For brunch: Acme or Vin Rouge.  For lunch: Foster’s Market or Parker and Otis.  For dinner: Provence or Papa’s Grill.
Favorite dish: Lobster stew and popovers at The Jordan Pond House in Maine.
Favorite drink: Cherry Coke.
Favorite cookie: Chocolate Whopper from Foster’s.

Susan

Susan leads Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill/ Carrboro tours. She’d be hard pressed to say which she likes the best, but it’s probably Durham. Or Chapel Hill/ Carrboro. No, Raleigh. She has tons of information to share, and she exudes passion for these cities and their restaurants and chefs!

What is your occupation? Creative Project Manager at an ad agency (Capstrat).

Where are you from? Indianapolis, but lived in Boulder, CO for 5 years after college, and Salt Lake City as a kid!

When did you move to North Carolina? April of 2008.

What do you love best about North Carolina? There’s so much! The food, the charming towns, the stunning beauty and the deep, rich history. But most of all the coastline! Sea oats, waves, barrier islands, ponies.

What do you love best about leading food tours? Helping folks discover the amazing food culture here – from hi-end restaurants to mom-n-pop deli’s, and visiting with farmers and chefs. Showing them places and people they might not readily find or meet. It’s an absolute blast getting to show people around, and probably one of my very favorite things to do!

What are your favorite foods? (List three) Vietnamese rice noodle bowl with chicken, fresh veggies, herbs and a pork roll. Low Country Boil with fresh shrimp, corn, red potatoes and sausage — Especially when it’s made by my hubby’s uncle in Charleston, with shrimp he caught himself. Crusty french bread w/ tapenade and smelly cheese (preferably Epoisse). Mmm!!

What is your comfort food? A really great roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and butter beans.

What is your favorite drink? Bulleit bourbon, fresh ginger simple syrup, club soda and fresh lime. Or ginger tea w/soy milk!

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? Liver. Foie Gras.

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Amy Sedaris.

What are your hobbies? I’m completely obsessed with traveling – near and far, and finding out more about the region by eating where the locals eat. I dig and dig to find great hidden spots and love sharing what I find with others. I can’t sit still! Kayaking, hiking, camping. My hubby and I absolutely love cooking together, and entertaining our friends.

Favorite restaurant? Wow. No way to pick just one. Could be a little pub in tiny Doolin, Ireland called McGann’s Pub, or maybe it’s  Eddy Pub in Saxapahaw. In Raleigh – Centro and Poole’s In Durham – Scratch Bakery. In Carrboro – Neal’s Deli In Chapel Hill – Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe.

Favorite sandwich? That fresh tomato sandwich with homemade mayo and a pinch of salt on super soft bread that Bill Smith brought to a Stir The Pot Southern Foodways Alliance potluck dinner. Each sandwich was wrapped in brown waxed paper and you reached into a crinkled brown paper bag to get them. Absolute perfection. My mouth is still watering…

Favorite cookie? Shortbread with cranberries and pepitas. And I don’t even really like shortbread. But the recipe I have is delicious!

Neesey

Neesey leads Raleigh tours. As she says, “I need an outlet for this personality!” Neesey is full of information and enthusiasm.

What is your occupation? Bank Branch Manager.

Where are you from? Fort Wayne, Indiana, by way of New Bern, North Carolina.

When did you move to North Carolina? 1993.

What do you love best about North Carolina? Our geographical diversity.

What do you love best about leading food tours? Food, exercise, and company.

What are your favorite foods? (List three) Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

What is your comfort food? Cupcakes.

What is your favorite drink? Moscato.

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? Tomatoes (although I think they look like they taste so good!)

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? My grandmother.

What are your hobbies? Singing, dancing, and acting.

Favorite restaurant? Side Street Cafe.

Favorite sandwich? Turkey and Swiss croissant.

Favorite cookie? Peanut Butter.

Rebekah

Rebekah leads Raleigh tours. She’s everyone’s best friend by the end of every tour… she’s fantastic at taking care of people and sharing her love of all things Raleigh!

What is your occupation? Youth, Young Adult and Families Program Coordinator at The Jewish Community Center of Raleigh-Cary.

Where are you from? Mill Valley, CA

When did you move to North Carolina? Summer of 2008.

What do you love best about North Carolina? I love the easy living life style North Carolina has to offer. Great food, beautiful warm beaches, majestic mountains, and accessible city entertainment. I recently read: Say what you will about the South, but no one ever moved North to retire.

What do you love best about leading food tours? I love sharing my knowledge of the city and the region. And meeting new people from all over. I always finish a tour having learned something new. Once people have eaten some great food, they are very comfortable sharing about themselves and their own food finds. RebekahPicture2

What are your favorite foods? (List three) I love anything with great quality. Fresh North Carolina shrimp, Coffee and dessert (together), Pesto pasta.

What is your comfort food? Homemade macaroni and cheese.

What is your favorite drink? In the winter, it’s really for children… but I love steamed milk with vanilla. In the summer, a tall Arnold Palmer. Beer: Pale Ale. Cocktail: Dark and Stormy.

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? Raw celery.

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Martha Stewart at her house.

What are your hobbies? Visual arts, sailing, swimming, and hosting parties.

Favorite restaurant? The Pit in Raleigh when everyone agrees to order “Family Style”.

Favorite sandwich? Roasted turkey on Marble Rye with red onion, lettuce, avocado, mayo and Havarti cheese.

Favorite cookie? Peanut Butter.

Laos Meets Raleigh: Vansana Nolintha

Along Blount Street in Raleigh resides one of the city’s newest and most exciting restaurants: Bida Manda.

While walking through the doors of this Laotian restaurant, you’ll notice distinctive, decorative twigs from Western North Carolina that were hand tied by Vansana Nolintha, the restaurant’s owner, and 55 others. Van seeks to educate people about his first home, Laos, and he also acknowledges his new home, Raleigh, with touches like this. The tables are made from old church walls and barns from Durham.

Van is passionate about bringing people together through food and drink at Bida Manda. Our interview with him demonstrates and describes the beautiful concept of Van’s restaurant, but know that it – the food, the space, the culture – is something you must experience in person.

Starting with the basics:

Occupation: Owner of Bida Manda. Where are you from?  Luang Prabang, Laos. When did you move to North Carolina? I moved with younger sister, Vanvisa, to the United States in 1998.

 What do you love best about North Carolina? It’s interesting because I have lived and traveled in so many places – 30 different countries, actually. Other than Laos, I only consider Raleigh home, and that’s because of my time at NC State. Those five years I spent studying there formed my understanding of the world and the way I see things. So I think the people in Raleigh are what I love about this community, and a lot of those people happen to be from NC State.

I went to Europe after NC State to get my masters at Trinity College in Dublin. After I finished, I was looking for a job all over the world; coming back to Raleigh was a transitional thing. I just wanted to say hi to my mentors, but right when I got back, it felt like a new city – vibrant and engaging – and I knew instantly that I wanted to be a part of this revolution. It’s a different energy around here, and it doesn’t matter what your profession is. People are genuinely optimistic about where the city is going.

What type of music do you listen to when you’re cooking in the kitchen? I love soul music; I love sappy love songs. I listen to Delilah every night, and some Top 40. I wish I liked more alternative stuff, but I just love the sappy love songs. “At Last” by Etta James is one of my favorites. At Bida Manda, I play music that makes people move and slow dance throughout their meal.

Top 5 favorite foods? (anything goes) (1) I love Mediterranean, like Neomonde; (2) Local food; (3) Breakfast – it should be its own type of food, not even based on nationality. Just breakfast; (4) Brunch, especially with friends; (5) I absolutely adore Asian cuisine. I think it really honors a different palate and different ingredients – especially herbs.

What is your comfort food? I love Pho; it takes me right back to being a little kid again. Mom and I always ate Pho for breakfast. We would wake up really early on Saturdays; shops open at 6:30 and only stay open until 8 or 9 am. And now that we are so far from home, from my parents and family, when I get home after a stressful day, I just want a big bowl of Pho. It always brings me back to Laos.

Are there any foods you won’t eat/try? I eat pretty much everything, but I absolutely do not like yogurt. It jiggles a little bit. Same things with mayonnaise. And I’m lactose intolerant. And I think chocolate is gross.

What is the most memorable meal you’ve eaten recently? Recently, I would say brunch at Capital Club 16. It was me and five friends. We got together around noon on a Sunday, and Jake, the owner, made fantastic fish. Normally, it’s brunch so we are pretty tired, but the whole table was just alive. Everyone talked about their week, and we ended up talking about how we’d like to see the city change. We talked about Raleigh’s growth and how we want to be a part of it. I think there’s something meaningful and profound about a group of young kids getting together to talk about their city. It got me really excited about our city, our era, and it got me excited that people really do care about Raleigh.

The ingredient you currently can’t stop using is: Pork Belly. It’s my favorite thing to play around with: the techniques you use when treating the belly. And we are also playing around with sweet potato, pumpkin and apple a lot for the fall menu.

You have a day with absolutely no obligations. How do you spend it? Right now, if I could just have a day, I would drive to the mountains. I would drive to Blue Ridge with my friends and just hike. Fall is my favorite season, so I try to spend as much time outside as possible, especially when the leaves are changing. I haven’t painted in a while either, so I would bring my paint set and canvas.

What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant? I ferment a lot of stuff. I love fermented pork. I ferment sausage that I don’t think Bida Manda is ready for yet. Mom has taught me how to ferment food since I was really small. A lot of places in the world, you ferment meat to keep it for a long time. Fermented fish is one of my favorite dishes. It means some sticky rice, raw garlic  salt… put it in a Ziploc bag and leave it for a day.

What are some cooking challenges or techniques you would like to tackle? I’m not a dessert person, so I want to be more intentional and put more of it on the menu. Especially at an Asian restaurant, not many think, “Oh, I want an Asian dessert.” So it would nice to provide them with options.  

Who is one person you’d love to cook with? I would love to cook with Andrea Reusing [from Lantern in Chapel Hill]. My mentor gave me her book, “Cooking in the Moment”, when we started thinking about Bida Manda. I just love her understanding of food in relation to people and this land. I would love to be her novice and follow her around for a day, and see how she sources her food and prepares her dishes for her guests everyday. Her book is awesome, because it doesn’t just talk about food but also cooking in the moment and eating seasonally. As a Buddhist, it’s all about cooking in the moment. We learned a tremendous amount from her about being natural in food selection and about Laotian essence.

Sharon

Sharon leads tours in Raleigh and, more recently, in Durham. She is incredibly enthusiastic – about everything – but mostly about making sure that everyone around her is having a great time!

What is your occupation? Got a few – Yoga Instructor and Integrative Health and Lifestyle Coach.

Where are you from? Trinidad & Tobago, West Indies.

When did you move to North Carolina? In 2005 from New York City.

What do you love best about North Carolina? Weather, people, small city with big city feel, and the FOOD.

What do you love best about leading food tours? Meeting exciting people and introducing them to the food and chefs — the amazing and passionate chefs in our small city.

What are your favorite foods? (List three) Pumpkin/ butternut squash curried soup, Seafood – grilled with roasted vegetables, West Indian “Callaloo”.

What is your comfort food? Curried pumpkin/ squash soup.

What is your favorite drink? Bellinis, drinks that are bubbly but not too sweet.

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? Anything still alive.

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Michael Chiarello.

What are your hobbies? Practicing yoga and throwing parties at my home.Sharon - August PIC2

Favorite restaurant? Oooh Tough One – it’s a trifecta – Centro/ Sitti/ Bida Manda.

Favorite sandwich? Grilled Portobello with baby spinach and roasted red peppers on whole grain with a balsamic vinagrette.

Favorite cookie? Chocolate Chip – although I am always looking for another.

Tony

Tony leads tours in Raleigh. He’s also a professional tour guide in his day-to-day job – taking school groups to Washington, DC. Tony is great at showing off all of what Raleigh has to offer, and at making everyone around him feel happy and at ease.

What is your occupation? Director of Sales for Holbrook Field Trips.

Where are you from? My parents tell me I’m from New York… but I’m not so sure.photo (3)Tony

When did you move to North Carolina? I’ve called North Carolina home since 1998.

What do you love best about North Carolina? To me, it’s the best place to live for the food, people, lifestyle and the food. Did I already mention food?

What do you love best about leading food tours? I like being a part of helping people to have an amazing experience and to enjoy learning about what good food consists of. Some call it the Farm to Fork Movement, I call it the Don’t Settle for Chain Restaurants Movement.

What are your favorite foods? (List three) Shrimp and grits, Pork BBQ, Beasley’s pork shoulder meatloaf. Seriously, I’m not kidding, I started to get emotional eating this meatloaf. Who does that?

What is your comfort food? Egg and bread with homemade sauce. Nonna used to make me cry with that dish it was sooooo good.

What is your favorite drink? Pimm’s Cup from Neptune’s. I also like the Bloody Mary from Dockside in Wilmington. I like it a lot!!

What food/s won’t you eat/ try? Nothing associated with animal genitalia. Is that too forward?

Who is the one person you would love to cook with? Ashley Christensen (walking foodie goddess) or Chef Sarig (like Madonna, he doesn’t need a last name).

What are your hobbies? Basketball, sports, strength training, activities like that. I don’t do them necessarily because I enjoy them. I do them to stay in shape because I love to eat. Mangia!

Favorite restaurant? This is the most difficult question to ask a foodie. Seriously, this is like asking a politician to give a straight answer. I used to say Zely and Ritz without hesitation. But post-Zely (RIP), I would say Mateo in Durham, Poole’s in Raleigh, and Kadhai Indian Restaurant in Raleigh. You can’t make me pick a fave…I just refuse!

Favorite sandwich? Shrimp Po-Boy in New Orleans. I think I married my sandwich by the time I finished.

Favorite cookie? It used to be Wilmore Café’s chocolate chip cookie. Now, I don’t have a favorite. Maybe that’s what I can do this weekend. A mission to find a favorite cookie… who’s in?