Inez: I graduated from Carolina and went up to New York to go to culinary school. While I was in culinary school, I worked part time at a wine store on the upper east side. After going through my externship in the kitchen and going through school, I realized that I liked to drink more than I liked to cook!
I started exploring opportunities in the wine world. This was 1998, getting ready to be 1999 and well, there weren’t sommeliers in every restaurant like there are now. But, there happened to be an article on a female master sommelier at Windows on the World [a set of restaurants located at the top of the World Trade Centers and a lower Manhattan staple at the time].
So I called her and she answered the phone and, basically I just kept in touch with her. In March, 1999, she ended up asking if I wanted to apply to be a hostess at one of the new restaurants. The day I went up to interview she had an assistant cellar master resign. Assistant cellar master is a fancy word for box mover, a minimum wage box mover. So, I started at the bottom and just moved my way up until ultimately I was the beverage director, which means I oversaw all the ordering for wine, beer and liquor. And that’s where I met my husband.
At that time Frances, our day time manager, owned the restaurant. She called my dad’s house and said “I’m interested in selling the restaurant and I hear your daughter is home.” I’m thinking we don’t have any money to do that, but my dad was able to get Stephen to commit for 18 months. We still went to France and worked the harvest and stayed there for about two and a half months. We came home and closed on the restaurant the day we got home...that was thirteen years ago in October.
The first year actually, October until April we were here together trying to make a go of it and I ended up getting a job in Atlantic City opening a casino as the wine director. So I left him here right after we got married for about a year, 15 months, to run the restaurant by himself. So the salary in New Jersey supported our lack of here, our labor of love. Then I came back… because I got pregnant. I came back here and realized with a child there was going to be no more me jet setting here and us living apart. So we got really serious in terms of being entrepreneurs and owning a business. I never expected this, I was always very happy just doing wine and now I feel like I’m never doing wine because I’m doing payroll, and balancing checkbooks and making sure staff is happy. But we’ve clearly done something right or been really lucky.
Is that way too long?
Inez: Stephen, my husband, is the chef. Stephen is half greek, half Italian but he wishes he was Japanese. So it’s flavors from all over. I like to say he loves local ingredients, but he’s not going to not use lemons because they aren’t grown here, he’s not going to not use olive oil that may not be Italian. I would say that he is part of the local food movement. He definitely supports it in every way he can, but he’s also big on quality. If the beef is good, like really good, he will use it. If it’s not, it doesn’t really matter that it’s from 20 minutes away.
I definitely think he was one of the first in terms of putting a small town on the map for I like to say, upscale dining in a casual environment - we’re not super fancy. I’m most proud of with this restaurant that lunch is very accessible. So Monday-Friday it’s counter service, everything on the menu is $10 or less, depending on what you get, it’s fairly healthy and it’s definitely for people who need to get in and out. For dinner, you know, there are people in Tarboro who have never eaten here. It’s just, we’re in a poor county, high unemployment, so it may seem a little too much, but it does appeal to areas all around us, so Rocky Mount, Greenville, Roanoke Rapids, even Raleigh is great to us. My dad told us a long time ago, I think your restaurant can be, if you build it they will come. And it has proven true. I can’t even get my head around all the support we’ve had from everyone.
Inez: Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle Oil and Jus de Poulet, it’s why I married him.
TS: Do you serve it here?
Inez: Yes we do, it’s a precious dish. He does it a lot in the fall
TS: What is your favorite place to eat besides here?
Inez: Milton & Miles in Rocky Mount. I love it there, it’s my happy place. Bryan Rankin is the chef and owner there and he does a phenomenal job, it’s a little gem.
TS: Favorite wine?
Inez: I drink more bubbly than anything. If I could afford to drink champagne, I would drink the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose, that’s always been one of my favorites.
TS: What is Stephen’s favorite thing he cooks?
Inez: [long pause] Crab legs. He rarely eats his own food, when we have people over, he cooks all day and then he doesn’t eat. He says it’s because he’s tasting the whole time.
TS: Does he cook a lot at home? Family dinners?
Inez: Oh yeah! I drink and he cooks.
TS: Speaking of family, how many children do you have?
Inez: Cynthia is 11 and Stephen is 8
TS: Are they chefs, do they like cooking?
Inez: Cynthia actually works in the restaurant some, she’ll come run food, work weddings and stuff like that, she’s all about a dollar. Stephen [Junior] is an eater, he eats everything.
TS: Do you do a lot of weddings and catering?
Inez: Tons, probably four a year which is all we can handle. Lots of rehearsal dinners in the restaurant.
TS: And finally, If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
Inez: I’d like to think I’d be writing.
Later this week I'll be sharing one of their crowd favorite recipes, Chicken Scallopine, stay tuned!