May 30, 2020
O’ Vivian … HOW COULD YOU?
For about 250 of its 260+ years of existence, My Home Town of Kinston – NO “g” between the “n” and “s” – was well known for … (1) Pure Artesian Well Water … (2) Very Successful High School Basketball … (3) Home town of “a genuine Internet Legend” … (4) Home of Funk Legend Maceo Parker and “Little Eva”. Then in 2006 … Vivian Howard came back home.
Kinston still has its artesian wells and really good basketball… but Vivian Howard has zoomed well past “Little Eva” on the local celebrity ladder… and, to be honest, surpassed ME among the “born after 1960 crowd”. What my local fans lack in numbers they make up in sketchy memories.
The actual “home” Vivian came back to was in Deep Run, NC – a rural community in Lenoir County boasting no stoplights – three churches – and an IGA Store.
Vivian’s father was / is a very very successful farmer in the Deep Run community. Mr. Howard was among the very few area farmers to accurately forsee the collapse of the local tobacco industry. He diversified into various other crops and a passel of tractor dealerships.
Mr. Howard’s business success was sufficient to grant his daughter her fondest wish – Get the Hell Outta Eastern North Carolina …
“The kinfolk said Vivian move away from there. Said New Yawk is the place you oughta be,… so they loaded up the truck and they moved her to …
The Big Apple … Swimming pools (?), movie stars, tall buildings and fancy restaurants…”
Vivian got an entry level job at a fancy New York restaurant and met a starving artist named Ben. They both got more and more jobs at more fancy restaurants. Then one day in 2005 Daddy Howard called his daughter…
Daddy offered to finance Vivian in her own restaurant – but That Restaurant had to be IN KINSTON. It coulda been worse. He coulda said Deep Run.
Long story cut short … that restaurant became Chef & The Farmer. Its 2020 and Vivian Howard’s Chef & The Farmer is arguably The Most Famous Restaurant in Eastern North Carolina that does NOT – (1) use plastic forks – (2) have a Drive-Up Window – (3) have the words “chopped plate with two sides plus hushpuppies” anywhere on its menu.
Vivian’s Chef & The Farmer is a Fancy Restaurant that lures Yankee Foodies off I-95 to Kinston… where they can spend $150/couple for dinner … sleep in a former bank vault turned B&B … have grits & red-eye gravy for breakfast at Lovick’s Grill … and hopefully get back on I-95 without ever hearing Duelin’ Banjos or burning crosses.
NOTE: I am Very Very Proud to call Kinston – My Home Town. It was an Awesome place to grow up in the 50-60s. If parts of this narrative sound like I am making fun of My Home Town, It’s Because I Am.
But You Better Not; or I will hunt you down and beat you like a rented mule. I’m serious.
Kinston has not quite 20,000 people. Same as it has for 60 years. The racial ratio teeter-totter has teetered to over 60% AfAm … which accounts for its continuing success in high school basketball … and permanently depressed real estate market.
Of those about 20,000 … 80% have not – do not- will not ever dine at Chef & The Farmer for a variety of socio – cultural – economic realities. Of the remaining 20%… about 100 or so locals “might” dine there on an anniversary, birthday or … actually there is no “or”. Birthdays and anniversaries are pretty much it.
Blondie and I ate there once. It was very nice. It wasn’t a birthday or an anniversary, but we are sophisticated Big City- types, don’t you know.
There are some “rich folks” over in Greenville who might drive the 25 miles for dinner if they have out-of-town visitors who watch Vivian’s Wildly Popular PBS series and insist on it.
DuPont closed its plant 10+ years ago … as did The Shirt Factory … and recently an appliance assembly plant went dark. Jim Hunt’s vaunted Global Trans Park has been The Greatest Political Flim Flam Scam since Floyd McKissick’s “Soul City” debacle in the 70s. Some folks around Kinston don’t mind Global Trans Park jokes… but you better know who those people are before you tell one.
Chef & The Farmer is Kinston’s most popular tourist magnet that isn’t a Confederate gunboat that sank on its maiden voyage.
A local heir to a nursing home fortune opened a brewery in a former drive-thru drug store. A vodka company (?) is upfiitting the old power plant – which I swear is haunted – for something to do with vodka. And an Ax-Throwing Store (?) announced it was coming to town before Corono-Mania hit.
Vivian’s Restaurant and the East Coast HQ of a Jamaican Drug Cartel are Kinston’s most thriving enterprises. Both contribute in their own way to My Home Town’s regional image.
Speaking of “image” … for the first two season of Vivian’s wildly successful PBS series she would start each show like an American POW giving an interview from The Hanoi Hilton … blinking in Morse Code …
“Hi, I’m Vivian. I’m being held hostage in a Dogpatch Theme Park. I’m the only human in 50 miles who wears shoes. Help! Send me a copy of The New Yorker and a bagel!”
She won a James Beard award and – in her acceptance speech to a snotty gaggle of Upper East Side NYC “Swells” … Vivian compared Eastern NC unfavorably to Pakistan. Back home… her adoring fans were holding “watch parties” for her award ceremony. The “Pakistan” comment went over like an Outhouse in a hurricane.
Finally someone slapped her up side her head and said…
“Vivian, stop insulting Everyone in Eastern NC … You arrogant liberal pinhead!”
So you modified her show intro plea to a more subtle …
“… I’m Vivian … one of maybe seventeen people here in Hick-town who wears shoes.” OUCH!
Despite it all… there have been a steady stream of deep-pocketed Yankee Foodies for the restaurant to be very successful. So successful she opened an Oyster / Burger Bar in an alley a block away.
That “brought an urban vibe” to Mayberry On The Neuse until Vivian closed it down last month. Kinston apparently did not need “an urban vibe”.
Vivian Howard has become Kinston’s Most Famous Female Celebrity since Eunice Pickett McLawhorn – Madam of The Cadillac Motel & Whorehouse in the mid 60s. There was the gal who chopped her boyfriend’s wife up into little pieces and threw the pieces into a Houston canal … but no one ever knew her name.
With her nationally-famous restaurant … wildly successful A Chef’s Life PBS series … a 2nd PBS series – Somewhere South – described as “a female Guy Fieri searching for The Lost World of Paula Deen”... AND a best-selling cookbook …
The Window of Opportunity for Vivian Howard to become a For-real Restaurant Mogul is NOW.
This week it was announced that Vivian is opening – not one – but TWO new restaurants in Charleston SC this Fall. In addition to husband Ben’s Pizza restaurant in Wilmington.
Good By Poor Little Lenoir County …
Hello Prosperous Big-Time Low Country.
The locals are about as happy with That News as they were with the Pakistan comparison. Even though she says Chef & The Farmer will / might open back up in the Fall … or not. The locals see it as…
Vivian Howard is bailing on Kinston …. Despite All That Kinston Has Done For Her … Huh?
No one can specify WHAT Kinston has done for Vivian ?? … surely there has to be something.
Unlike greedy sports owners and their scams where cities build their stadiums for them… then they move 10 years later. Vivian’s Daddy financed the restaurant … NOT local taxpayers.
There is talk of a Don’t Go Vivian petition – with “some” of those twice a year patrons promising to try to fit in a 3rd visit/ year.
Does this all sounds wacky? … That is Why I’m telling you about it?
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