By Gino Blefari
Good evening! This week my travels find me in Raleigh, NC for a meeting with Tommy Camp, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolinas Realty and his fantastic managers. After talking leadership, best practices and recruiting with the team, we had dinner at the historic Angus Barn, a decades-old barn-turned-restaurant that is a celebrated staple of the local dining scene. (Our meal actually took place in the basement, an incredible space that featured a table so large it took up most of the room.)
The Angus Barn—also known as “Big Red”—was officially opened for business on June 28, 1960 with novice restaurateurs Thad Eure Jr. and Charles Winston running the show. Neither men had any experience operating a restaurant; perhaps this was why they so boldly disregarded their detractors who said the Angus Barn project couldn’t be done. Who, these critics questioned, would visit a restaurant located along a narrow, two-lane road, desolate save a few telephone stations dotting the way?
But Eure and Winston stood strong, unfamiliar with the restaurant industry but no strangers to censure and rejection. A year before the launch of the Angus Barn, the men faced their first hurdle after they spent $6,750 to buy 50 acres of empty farmland along Highway 70, where the Angus Barn would be built. They knew the barn would cost $200,000 to construct and so went in search of a loan. However, they visited bank after bank and couldn’t find a single person willing to take a risk on two young upstarts with not much more than a vacant pasture and lofty dreams to their names.
As a last-ditch effort, Eure went to his father, the late North Carolina Secretary of State, Thad Eure Sr., asking him to put up money for the barn. As the story goes, the senior Eure agreed, and even mortgaged his home to secure the loan. “I believe in those boys!” He famously exclaimed and so the barn construction began.
Here I’ll pause to draw an uncanny parallel to my own professional story, where I too turned to my father for help in January 2009 when I couldn’t make payroll. He, just like Eure Sr., agreed—refinancing his own house for the cause—and his belief in me and my team allowed us to pay our employees that month.
But back to the barn …
Nobody will visit such a remote spot, the naysayers warned Eure and Winston in 1959, nobody will pay you the money to build this barn. Except they would and they did because the restaurant—despite some initial hiccups—was an undeniable success and today ranks among the 100 best restaurants in the U.S. and one of the nation’s 50 highest-grossing independent restaurants. And after dining there I can understand why; the Angus Barn not only serves excellent food but the staff members at the barn also provide the kind of excellence in service you’d expect from any incredibly well-run business.
So, what’s the message? On first glance when I visited the Angus Barn last night, it seemed to be just a large, beautiful barn house; it sat on top of a hill surrounded by acres of tree-lined farmland and was painted (unsurprisingly) a deep, rustic red. But once I learned about the rich history of Angus Barn, it quickly became apparent that beyond its stabled walls was a fabled tale of belief, confidence and ultimately, success in the face of certain defeat.