Owning and running a restaurant is not for the faint of heart. It’s financially risky, the hours are long, and it’s just plain hard work.
The three entrepreneurs we highlight here are remarkable examples of the driving forces behind the local food-service industry.
If you have the privilege of meeting them, consider thanking each one for making Cary’s dining scene so exceptional.
Proprietor: Corbett Shope
Restaurant: Corbett’s Burgers & Soda Bar, Cary
As a former general manager at a popular fried-chicken fast-food restaurant, Corbett Shope stepped out on faith to forge his own path. In 2013, he opened his eponymous eatery that specializes in fresh burgers, hot dogs and eclectic sodas.
Why burgers? Shope traveled to Siler City to examine Johnson’s Drive-In, an iconic burger joint.
“I figured if the owner could make a living being open a short time each day, surely I could do something similar. Plus, opening my own place allowed me to be closed on Sundays,” he said.
Business has increased every year at Corbett’s. Folks continue to discover the charming haven for juicy burgers, crispy waffle fries and more than 240 varieties of bottled sodas.
“We have loyal regular customers, but new people come in every day,” said Shope, a Harnett County native who now lives in Apex with his wife and four children.
Nestled in the back corner of an older strip shopping center, Corbett’s has survived and thrived thanks largely to positive word of mouth. A 2014 spread in Our State magazine also didn’t hurt.
“The first six months we were open was tough, so the Our State piece helped get people talking and online reviews churning,” Shope said. “We’re among the highest-rated burger places in Cary on Trip Advisor, and Google and Yelp have us ranked at four-and-a-half stars [out of five].”
Shope added that social media can be a help and hindrance to local restaurants.
“I respond to every review,” he said. “If someone makes a negative comment, it gives me the opportunity to either set the record straight or apologize when we make a mistake.”
Whenever you go to Corbett’s, you’re likely to find Shope flipping burgers over an open-flame grill. His daughters, Lindsey and Sarah, serve alongside him as managers.
“We are committed to getting better each day, and we truly enjoy serving all our customers,” he said.
126 Kilmayne Drive, Cary
Proprietor: Dai Nguyen
Restaurant: Eighty8 Asian Bistro, Cary
With his laid-back demeanor and warm smile, Dai Nguyen, owner and executive chef of Eighty8 Asian Bistro, recently greeted several guests and invited them to relax and enjoy a unique dining experience.
Some visitors may expect to find just another place peddling buy-one-get-one-free sushi. Instead, Eighty8 delivers exotic fusion dishes that showcase Nguyen’s creative flair in the kitchen.
Born in Vietnam but raised in Durham, the 39-year-old Nguyen never pursued formal culinary training. His mother taught him to cook. He also watched Food Network and traveled around the United States to explore various cuisines.
Initially, Nguyen made a name for himself at Wasabi 88 in Greenville, N.C., an Asian hotspot he owned and operated for nearly 10 years. Life was going well, but then his father’s health declined.
Nguyen decided to sell the business and move with his wife and two children to be closer to his parents. During the transition, his father passed away.
Following the difficult change, Nguyen opened Eighty8 Asian Bistro as a fresh start to his career.
The challenge he now faces involves building a buzzworthy business in a location that has seen other restaurants come and go.
“We hope people will give us the opportunity to show them what we have to offer,” said Nguyen.
Among the offerings at Eighty8 include first-rate sushi, Wagyu beef burgers, grilled sea bass and coffee-rubbed filet mignon. When you visit, order the ribeye-infused bulgogi eggroll appetizer with shaved ribeye.
“We try to be unique,” Nguyen said. “America is a melting pot, so we blend different cultures into our dishes.”
1077 Darrington Drive, Cary
Proprietor: Tyler Watt
Restaurant: Postmaster Restaurant & Bar, Cary
Make no mistake: Tyler Watt is a mover and shaker in downtown Cary. Three years ago, he opened craft beer and wine hangout Pharmacy Bottle + Beverage. Now he’s added a 50-seat Southern restaurant with a minimalistic atmosphere to his repertoire. Postmaster debuted in December 2017.
“People would come into Pharmacy and ask, ‘Where do we go eat?’’’ Watt explained. “There are some great restaurants down here, but I felt like there was a need for something else. I decided to take a gamble.”
Location was important to Watt, so when a space just around the corner from his beverage haunt became available, he jumped on it.
“We also have parking out front, which is a bonus,” he said.
The building is situated near the hotel that Cary founder and former postmaster Frank Page built. Inspired by the location, Watt named his restaurant as an homage.
Postmaster serves up locally sourced, seasonal fare.
“We touch coastal, Piedmont and the Appalachians,” said Watt, who grew up on the West Coast but attended Leesville Road High School and East Carolina University. He currently resides in Raleigh.
From a well-designed open kitchen, shrewd chefs Chris Lopez and David Cain dish out virtuous eats like hominy hushpuppies, pickled root vegetables and crispy fried octopus. The menu changes often, which should please adventurous regulars.
“We’re being fun and experimental,” said Watt with a smile. “We’re taking what the seasons give us, and we’re running with it.”
Watt has curated the 15-stool bar with approachable vodkas, liquors and wine. And beer?
“We only have six handles, but we have refined them to be quality products that pair well with food,” he said.
So far people seem exceedingly receptive to Postmaster. It doesn’t hurt that Watt spends the lion’s share of his time there.
“I’m here every night,” he said. “Eventually I’d like to move to downtown Cary, so I can ride a bike to work.”
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