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Picture This, December 2012 — Beefing up business

Beefing up business

Angus Barn has grown along with the Triangle to become the go-to place for the business crowd.

They built their steakhouse to resemble a big red barn halfway between Raleigh and Durham on two-lane U.S. 70, which back then was crowded with a lot of nothing. The airport was nearby, but it was little more than a glorified landing strip. So Thad Eure Jr. and Charles Winston relied on a very specific clientele: “The only people to drive out here were their friends who felt sorry for them,” says Van Eure, Thad’s daughter and the current owner.

Things have changed since Angus Barn opened its doors in 1960. Research Triangle Park blossomed a few miles away. Raleigh-Durham International Airport is a conduit for roughly 400,000 passengers a month, many of them business travelers. Interstates 440 and 540 make the formerly out-of-the-way restaurant accessible. Consequently, Angus Barn has become a destination not only for visiting heavy hitters — such as Mitt Romney and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning — but businessmen looking for convenience, privacy and steak. “Weekdays we count very, very much on the business community. That’s the majority of our business,” Van Eure says.

Eure and Winston decided to open a steakhouse in the late 1950s, though neither had any experience running a restaurant. “It was just two guys talking. ‘You know, Raleigh needs a steakhouse,’” she says. “You know, crazy talk.” They bought 50 acres for $6,750, but no bank would lend them money to build. Thad Eure Sr., North Carolina’s secretary of state from 1936 to 1989, mortgaged his farmhouse to guarantee a loan for his son’s venture. The building cost about $200,000. That barn burned down four years later, but a measure of its early success is evidenced by the mob of lenders who wanted to finance the rebuilding. Thad Eure Jr. bought out Winston in 1978 but died of cancer a decade later at age 56. His daughter took over ownership and management of the restaurant. In 1991, she turned the basement into a wine cellar and dining room. The Pavilion at the Angus Barn, an indoor/outdoor banquet area, opened four years ago. The restaurant has grown to slightly more than an acre, not including the Pavilion. It claims to be one of the 50 highest-grossing independent restaurants in the U.S., with about $15 million in annual revenue, though Eure says much of that goes back out the barn doors. It employs roughly 300 — not only wait and kitchen staff, but accounting, laundry, landscaping and building maintenance — including 170 full-time workers who get health insurance and profit sharing.

That’s why Eure, 57, caters to the expense-account crowd, which generates between 65% and 75% of revenue. “Whatever they want is what we do.” Often, that means leaving them alone. The staff notes business meetings when reservations are made, and those patrons are seated at quiet, remote tables. Waiters are careful not to intrude. Businessmen come to Angus Barn to impress clients, and Eure tries not to disappoint. “It’s not going to go well if the food, the service isn’t a good experience.”

— Spencer Campbell