Quaint shop Joule Coffee + Table has been a staple of chef Ashley Christensen’s Raleigh restaurant empire since 2013. An announcement came through this morning that the downtown cafe will close on December 31, but for an exciting reason — Christensen will hand over the building to chef Sunny Gerhart, who has been with the AC Restaurants group since first venture Poole’s Diner nearly 10 years ago. The future of 223 Wilmington St. will be a St. Roch Oyster + Bar, an concept focused on local seafood.
Gerhart was Christensen’s sous chef at Poole’s for many years before opening Joule with her. After he gave a notice that he would be leaving the company, Christensen decided he should build his concept in the space he had spent the last three years cultivating.
Here, Christensen explains the decision and transition:
About a year ago, Sunny Gerhart (our chef at Joule) gave me his 12-month notice, letting us know he would be exiting our company. Sunny’s goal was to begin the process of creating his own restaurant. I was so excited for him at this prospect, because I believe in him and in his talents as a chef. He was my sous chef when I opened my first project, Poole’s Diner, and has been at Joule Coffee since day one, and I’ve watched him evolve into a true leader in hospitality. In his time in the Joule kitchen, he’s worked hard to creatively explore and adapt our offerings to a really neat group of coffee shop guests, all while leading a fantastic crew.
For several months, Sunny has been exploring locations for his concept and I’ve encouraged him to come to me with any questions or advice he might be seeking. It’s been exciting and rewarding to talk through those challenges and scenarios with him, having had firsthand experience in finding one’s footing in this business as a first-time owner. After thinking through his situation, I realized I had the opportunity to create an entry point into this business for Sunny in a way that’s unique from what anyone else could offer him. I had the chance to do for him what Eliza Kraft Olander had done for me back in 2007 when it was my dream to open my very own restaurant, Poole’s Diner, in downtown Raleigh.
In short, Sunny has spent so many years believing in and working for my dreams in food and hospitality here in Raleigh. I am now excited to focus on his dream, and to be a small part of helping him to make it happen.
It became clear that the ultimate space for Sunny’s new project is the same space that he’s worked so hard to build and contribute to. So, we have made the decision to sell him the Joule space. Joule will have its last service on December 31st of this year, until which point we are excited to share great coffee, cocktails, and food with all our guests. In the new year, the shop will be closing for a few weeks for some minor renovations, and Sunny’s concept will open its doors shortly after that. I’m proud to be an investor in Sunny’s concept, and even prouder that he’s the boss!
Of course, this decision, while very exciting, is bittersweet. Joule Coffee + Table has been an incredible project. I’m super proud of the coffee and food we’ve shared with the community, and beyond proud of the team that makes it happen everyday.
The unique coffee experience will find a home down the road as a part of a new concept we’re working on, as will the weekend brunch program that was so celebrated by our guests. Stay tuned on all of that, and please come share in Joule over the next two months!
And as we pass the torch to Sunny, I asked him to share a few thoughts about the future of 223 Wilmington St.:
“I’m thrilled and excited about this project and can’t wait to share it with our Raleigh community. St. Roch Oyster + Bar will open for dinner in spring of 2017, and will embrace the spirit of where my family is from and grew up: the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orleans. I look forward to offering an oyster and raw bar, with a menu that places a heavy focus on local seafood.
When I first started thinking about opening my own restaurant, I wasn’t sure what kind of concept I wanted to do. As I began to look at spaces, the idea began to form—I knew I wanted to have an oyster bar, and to focus on the food and the experience that I grew up with. But ultimately, the space that helped me fully realize my dream for my project ended up being my immediate surroundings. Each day, I’d walk into work and think about how perfect the Joule space would be—the long bar, the windows along the entrance, the downtown location that I love.
So when I was offered the chance to create St. Roch in space that I care about and draw inspiration from, it felt like it was meant to be. I’m grateful to Ashley for this opportunity, and even more grateful to have her support. I cherished the experience of helping her open Poole’s nearly 10 years ago, so it feels like things have come full circle as our working relationship evolves, and she helps me open my first project.
I’ve loved the experience of working at Joule, and the transition is bittersweet. I want our guests at Joule to know that, while things are changing, I am dedicated to providing a fun, laid-back place with the same dedication to hospitality. I look forward to welcoming back our regulars next year and creating new memorable experiences.”