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Bless our heart, under authoritarian rule, loyalty is regarded as more important than competence....

Bob Garner: Basic as a barn

Bob Garner

Bob Garner

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Bob Garner

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A high point of my holidays was a return to Raleigh’s Angus Barn after a long absence. It was grandly decked out for Christmas, as always.

But neither Biltmore-scale decorations nor the exquisite steak dinner our family enjoyed was at the heart of my pleasure.

No, it was the warmth with which we were received. It was the way every potential wrinkle was ironed out — like our being a bit late arriving from out of town for our months-in-advance reservation. It was being provided, insofar as possible, a memorable reprieve from ordinary concerns.

For nearly 60 years, the Angus Barn has remained not only relevant but also preeminent in an era of vastly increasing restaurant diversity and sophistication.

Having doubled in capacity to 650, yet remained in an expanded barn, it’s somewhat noisy, true. Prices are on the high side for the average patron. Those downsides clearly haven’t been a deal-breaker. Critics like the News & Observer’s Greg Cox continued awarding the restaurant four stars.

It’s basically still a rustic steakhouse. How has it survived and grown as an iconic destination? After all, few North Carolina restaurants besides barbecue joints and comfort food cafes have even managed to stay in business that long.

The answer lies in the “Angus Barn Way,” the philosophy nurtured by Van Eure, daughter of the late Thad Eure Jr., who co-founded the restaurant in 1960.

On this winding, rocky way, customer experience is virtually everything. Only employees with the wherewithal to be trusted to try to solve every problem, every “moment of truth” in staff parlance, are brought on board. Incomparable hospitality is the bedrock on which every physical wall, every service, every special touch rests.

This is no enterprise built on the sand of trendiness or even culinary adventurousness. It’s nevertheless generally considered among America’s top 100 restaurants.

Oh, incredible improvements in style and breadth of service have occurred. The Wine Cellar, with its $130 per person theme dinners, is booked months in advance. Decades of Wine Spectator Magazine Grand Awards indicate one of the country’s most diverse collections.

Family celebrations have always been central in the Angus Barn’s heritage. The 400-seat lakeside pavilion for weddings and other special events was practically a guaranteed success when it was built in 2008.

The curator of all this, Van Eure, has co-owned or owned the Angus Barn since her father’s death in 1988. She wasn’t necessarily expected to take over. But she observes, “When life threw me into the restaurant business, my dreams were put on hold until I realized all of my dreams could be fulfilled through this incredible institution called the Angus Barn.”

Public loyalty to the Angus Barn wouldn’t exist without limitless hospitality, something only enhanced, not defined, by elegance and flair.

That’s as basic as a barn.

Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker.

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