O’ Vivian … HOW COULD YOU!

Vivian ... HOW COULD YOU!
BobLee
May29/ 2020

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May 30, 2020

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O’ Vivian … HOW COULD YOU?

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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.

O' Vivian

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 

O' Vivian“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.

O' Vivian

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. Ram Neuse

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 Southdescribed 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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Leroy Rogers
Leroy Rogers
3 months ago

Kinston has had a rough go this past half century. When Old Bob was growing up (emphasis on OLD) K-town was actually a fairly cosmopolitan town, especially for its size. . Once a year tobacco buyers would flood the town with lots of money in their pockets and many of them had (shall we say) ‘cosmopolitan’ tastes in their entertainment choices. To put it bluntly Kinston had a lot of vice, which was tolerated I suppose for the greater economic good (or more likely the graft it generated). But it also made Kinston a place where one could get legitimate… Read more »

Leroy Rogers
Leroy Rogers
3 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

Greenville has ECU, Goldsboro Seymour Johnson, New Bern the water and Wilson I95, Kinston has only the Transpark (if that’s still a thing). But Kinston ain’t the only town in trouble, Rocky Mount once was a major player in NC, not so much anymore. I think they scored the big rail hub Johnston County ran off so maybe they’ll bounce back. But as you know this kind of thing has happened throughout the rust-belt for much the same reason… globalism. . If we had been smart (which we aren’t) we would have made tobacco cheap and attractive to the Chinese,… Read more »

iratepyrate
iratepyrate
3 months ago

Your VH / Kinston column has conjured several thoughts at one time, so please bear with me here … 1) First, I’m a little surprised your local Kinston celeb list didn’t include Jaime Pressly. The roles she played in “My Name is Earl” and “Mom” ain’t quite my cup of tea, but whenever I see her on TV she seems to play her characters with a good balance between PDEW and trailer-trash sass. . 2) I’m not from Kinston but I worked there several years in the ’80s. During that time, I got the feeling the town had a weird… Read more »

Ben in MO
Ben in MO
3 months ago

I occasionally watch her show just to hear her talk. I don’t really pay much attention to what she says, I just love to hear the accent. How she has maintained it is a wondrous thing.

Banks Randolph
Banks Randolph
3 months ago

Had planned a trip to visit my daughter and SIL (USN Lieutenant stationed at Lejeune) back in March that was to include an evening at The C & F but that has been delayed by the WuFlu. Looks like we won’t be dining with VH. Such is life. I’ve never understood the entire Farm To Fork thing anyway. I grew up around my grandparents’ farm where every meal was Farm To Fork.
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Like you I am an “Eater” not a “Diner” and tend to judge the finer establishments as those with Texas Pete on the table.

Leroy Rogers
Leroy Rogers
3 months ago

Well, being somewhat familiar with your hometown and the yankees from Clayton, Raleigh, Morrisville and Cary who have kept the doors of Ms. Howard’s restaurant open (barely), I am not the least bit surprised she’s moving. Look at it from some tech exec’s perspective. He/she lives in a $700k house in Preston, lots of good eateries in the area, so why would one drive hours to the middle of banjo country for fancy food readily available five minutes away? Oh they might go there a few times hoping to show up on TV or something, but infatuation soon passes. Anyone… Read more »

Leroy Rogers
Leroy Rogers
3 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

Yeah Pully’s was one of my old hangouts, along with Standard Drug #2 and Lyman Grant’s backroom poker game filled with doctors, lawyers and judges.
Gotta love ‘old school’ Kinston.

Leroy Rogers
Leroy Rogers
3 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

The Pickwick was the old pool hall beside the Paramount Theater as I recall. Not sure who owned it, a Charles Dickens fan sounds like. The Sportsman was Johnny Kassouf’s place (a nice guy with a shady reputation, not to be confused with Shady’s hamburger joint which was appropriately named). . But to answer your question I hung out at neither, well before my time. I did however frequent ‘The Cue’ just off Herritage St. (yes that’s spelled correctly, at least for Kinston). But not a lot. As you well know the sign of a mispent youth is proficiency at… Read more »

Porgie
Porgie
3 months ago

Have eaten at both places and much prefer the BR. She kinda lead you to believe that when (or if) C&F reopens , it will be akin to the BR. Did you not know that Vivian is one of us Wolfpackers? Do not recall what he degree is but she delivered the winter commencement address a couple of years ago. I was looking forward to some ax throwing contests at our reunion but alas that dreaded covid-19

Leroy Rogers
Leroy Rogers
3 months ago
Reply to  Porgie

I knew it! Don’t ask me how but I can spot a State girl a mile away. I can usually pick out ECU girls as well. But with Carolina girls (and guys) it’s no so easy. I’ll usually have to hear them speak for maybe 30 seconds or so before they take on a look of arrogance and condescension and say “Well I went to Carolina”.

Leroy Rogers
Leroy Rogers
3 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

State girls are typically big-boned, from counties like Duplin and Montgomery and VERY good at drinking and arm-wrestling.

OldAlphaWolf
3 months ago

Gee, you didn’t mention Vivian is a Wolfpacker…eng…….lish,,not eng…..neering..though. Even better, Kinston, to Cow College to WRAL to NYC…..

Larry.nixon@bnkinc.com
3 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

Nope, she’s a true Wolfpacker. Been to an Alumni event that she did the food and spoke. She interned at WRAL. Ole Time Barbecue was on the ABC morning show last month before every news item was about COVID-19.

Queen City
Queen City
3 months ago

Does VH & Ben have kids? If so,I imagine that had more to do with their decision than the restaurant scene in Kinston..

Dr Wire
3 months ago

First thought that comes to mind is the ol’ big fish in little pond now will be just another fish in a big pond at a time where restaurants have no idea what the future will bring. Very risky move into a very risky tourist area during a very risky time. Wish her and her money the best. . Over the last 2 decades, chefs have become superstars and their $$$ generating restaurants the talk of the local pop culture. Who was James Beard anyway? I never understood the celebrity for the combo of entrepreneur and cook, but thx you… Read more »

MPW
MPW
3 months ago

As I suspected, this was heading toward your next column! It was a good one!! You wrote it just right! Kinston will always be for us all, the Kinston of our childhood. You have described it perfectly now.
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Vivian did what was good for her and her expanding future! Keep them coming…

Doug
Doug
3 months ago

You nailed it, so much so I thought I wrote it. Then I realized I would have likely muddied it up by adding two former Kinston neighbors. One a former Miss North Carolina and the other Sylvia White, death row inmate for contract killing her husband Billy, planned two doors from where we both lived in ignorant bliss. Vivian moving to Charleston is akin to the Irsay’s moving the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis. Wonder if it will happen in the middle of the night.

Doug
Doug
3 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

Well not many can claim a former Miss N.C. and current death row inmate as neighbors.

MT.Roanoke
MT.Roanoke
3 months ago

… described as “a female Guy Fieri searching for The Lost World of Paula Deen” ,,,
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No more calls. We have a Winner of The Dennis Miller Award for Outstanding Creative Obtuseness. I’m sure only 3-4 other readers will “get that” line … but I’d like to have a beer with those other 3-4 readers … and with YOU of course. KUDOs!

Carl.67
Carl.67
3 months ago

So I’m reading this and spewing coffee on my keyboard … my wife asks “What’s so funny?” So I turned my laptop around so she could read it …
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“This guy is nuts” she said. … “Yeah, I know… but BobLee is all that’s keeping America from tumbling headlong into The Abyss.” I told her. … “OK, I suppose that is a good thing.” as she shook her head in concern. ,,, LOL!

Media.Mogul
Media.Mogul
3 months ago

Only thing you left out is that she is really leaving because her TV show has come to an end and she has no need for ENC anymore. . It’s not longer a “unique thing” to open a New York restaurant in Kinston. BTW, I ate at the Boiler Room once and really like it. I hear it was wildly successful while Chef and the Farmer had started to wane. Frankly I never got the whole deal of the Chef and Farmer. There are 10 restaurants in Careteret County better. I never had a good meal there. I think that… Read more »

Former96heel
Former96heel
3 months ago

Vivian, we’re gonna need more lemon squares is in my top 5 BL lines, and that’s one heck of a high bar.

RaleighJacket
RaleighJacket
3 months ago

BL, my wife has been a big fan of Vivian, watched all the shows on PBS, has a copy of her book, met her in person, etc.. We have made the trek twice from Raleigh to Kinston to pay homage and eat at her establishment. I’d say from personal experience the cost at The Chef & The Farmer can get to a lot more than $150/couple depending on what you order. But my observation after watching a lot of her shows is that it seems that she demonstrates a fair amount of affection for the area and people of Kinston/Lenoir… Read more »

ENC1
ENC1
3 months ago

Been to C&F twice but not in same year and I really enjoyed my visits to the Boiler Room. I hope she keeps some kind of restaurant in K-town per what I “heard” but who knows. The Cadillac Motel, heard rumors of a “house” in my teenage years when I lived about 75 miles East of K-town….now I know they were not rumors and a motel not a house!!!!

DM Carpenter
DM Carpenter
3 months ago

Up here in the Foothills, I had a passing knowledge of her and her restaurant. Then, one Thanksgivingish period, several years ago, I had the local news on in the background (mistake). She came on, to talk about “Traditional Thanksgiving”. All was going fine, until the canned cranberry sauce reared its ugly can rings. “Ooo, I loved that as a child, and I still do, but I CAN NOT serve that in my restaurant.” At that point, I heard the screeching brake noises, the car blowing through the guardrail, and the Wilhelm scream, as the car plunged to the bottom… Read more »

DM Carpenter
DM Carpenter
3 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

Well, NASCAR has tried to ‘gentrify’, under the current ‘leadership’. That is one reason it is beginning to make laps in the big white bowl…

Babs.N.Derm
Babs.N.Derm
3 months ago

Love good food and trying new things. Do NOT like the attitudes that typically go with those that become successful at it.

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