If it wasn't already clear from chef Scott Crawford's opening of the long-awaited Standard Food, the success of Oak City Cycling Project or the existence of So & So Books, last week's announcement by New Raleigh of new ownership of the cafe at Person Street Pharmacy makes it clear: The North Person sector near downtown Raleigh is suddenly one of the city's busiest zones.
Daniel Whittaker of Green Planet Catering has taken the reins of the cafe, which was renovated and reopened just a few months ago by Chad McIntrye and Craig Rudewicz. If you don't have your notes handy, Rudewicz is best known as the owner and creative force behind Raleigh-made Crude Bitters. McIntrye was the chef at The Market restaurant, which was located next-door to Escazu in their Blount Street strip. (It's occupied by Stanbury these days.)
Before that transition, McIntyre—now owner of Eco-Tech Draft Systems, which delivers environmentally friendly means of tapping kegs—was in discussion to open a restaurant-grocery concept at the address that is now the innovative Standard. His one-time partner in the plan was, indeed, Whittaker.
"It's funny the way things work out sometimes," says Whittaker. "I look across the street at Standard and wonder what might have been. But when [pharmacy owner Trey Waters] approached me about the cafe, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to grow Green Planet Catering. We're thrilled to be part of the neighborhood."
He's also glad to maintain relationships with McIntyre, who services the Eco-Draft system he designed for the cafe's vintage soda fountain, and Rudewicz, whose bitters and syrups are essential to creating their soft drinks, shrubs and cocktails.
Whittaker says the deal took shape in the past two months, around the same time he hired Patrick Cowden as Green Planet's executive chef. Cowden has cooked in Chapel Hill at Southern Season's Weathervane restaurant, Michael Jordan's 23 Sport Cafe (where he and Whitaker first met) and kitchens in both Durham and Raleigh. He's currently completing his obligations as executive chef for Tobacco Road Sports Cafe, which has three Triangle sites.
There will be considerable overlap between operations at Green Planet and the Pharmacy Cafe. Cowden will helm both, training staff and developing menus. Currently open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the cafe menu will continue to focus on breakfast and lunch offerings, though Whittaker wants to add dinner service during the next few months.
"I see it being something like Hayes Barton Cafe, which serves dinner just a few nights a week," says Whittaker. "My first goal is to become the go-to place for great sandwiches in the neighborhood. I live there myself, and I know it's something that's been missing. I want to see lines out the door at lunch time."
Whittaker will provide plenty of seating for those lines; he'll soon add an 18-foot community dining table, with some seating outdoors for al fresco service. They'll also emphasize to-go service. Whittaker is planning other neighborhood-friendly features, too, like taco nights and expanded barista service.
But he's confident that deli-style sandwiches (with cured meats imported from Brooklyn), soups and salads will serve as the primary draws for those craving well made comfort food.
This post first appeared in Indy Week.