Copyright The Hen & The Hog Restaurant - Halifax, NC. All rights reserved.
Co-Creators and Visionaries Behind The Hen & The Hog
Patterson Wilson, born and raised in Halifax, N.C. to an “old Eastern North Carolina family”, is an accomplished Executive with JW Marriott and Marriott Hotel Brands and owner of The Hen & The Hog Restaurant. This upbringing and her accomplishments over the years are a reflection of what she holds dear in her sense of patriotism and historical pride in a town she and restaurant co-creator, Chelsi Hogue, are working to preserve.
Rewinding to the days of Wilson’s formative years, growing up visiting her grandfather’s home place in the William R. Davie House, there is a historical connection all its own. Davie, a true patriot in every sense of the word, was the tenth Governor of North Carolina, father of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and general man of distinction in the political foundation of the nation. From a very young age, history surrounded Wilson and instilled a strong feeling of responsibility to preserve what so many before her built.
Upon graduation from Halifax Academy, Wilson pursued her higher education at Richmond College just outside of London, England for three years before returning to the United States to complete her studies at the International Institute of Interior Design, now Marymount University and the M. Wilhelmina Boldt Interior Design program, in Washington D.C. earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design. A degree that would propel the young woman from Halifax all the way to working with Bill Marriott all over the world. But, her travels to distant places always brought her home.
Halifax was home and brought a sense of pride, but also sadness for its once thriving downtown area. “It was difficult for me to see the buildings I spent countless hours in when I was a child, deteriorating. It was nothing anyone did or could have prevented, it was just our small, Main Street shopping district had fallen victim to the new, huge shopping developments full of giant big box stores”, Wilson said. “One by one over the years the customers left, the traditional businesses then closed and then the buildings began to give way as well.”
One would be justified in dismissing the situation as one of, “What could I do to make a difference?”. Fortunately, there was one person that believed she could make a difference and breathe life back into the shrinking town. Wilson was convinced that all it takes is one person willing to try to make a difference and others would join the effort. But, where would she start? How would she begin? Answers to these questions would come, but she realized she had to simply start. And, start she did.
In 2014, Wilson came to the realization that if you are going to revitalize a town you need to start with the buildings that are the landscape of the town. “All I could think about was saving the old buildings that lined South King Street”, Wilson said smiling. “[The buildings] are on the Historic Register, but I didn’t want to just own some old buildings. I wanted the town’s history to be preserved in a way that was authentic. Many people advised me that it would be better or easier to tear down the buildings and then build new ones”. But, for Wilson, “that was not even a consideration in my mind. Those buildings are our history. They reveal the skill and craftsmanship of local builders and lives of the town’s families who built those businesses. That is was what I wanted to preserve. Destruction of the buildings would have defeated the whole purpose of preservation which was why I started this project in the beginning.”
Wilson, true to form, does not enter any project without a plan. “My first thought was we need a great gathering place, a restaurant to bring people back downtown”, Wilson recalled. Inspired by her years living in England, “There are all these wonderful pubs in England. And, there, the pub is the heart of the town or neighborhood. This experience gave me as a great model for the restaurant and what we wanted The Hen and The Hog to become.” The Hen and Hog’s name was an homage to the Olde English pub of sorts. “We wanted it to be a place set in the history of the town where you could get a great meal and have a drink versus a traditional pub that is a place you go to get a drink, but can also get food.”
During this point in the conversation, Wilson broke from the British vibe the conversation had steered and gestured to three hand painted American flags that decorate the walls atop of the stairs of the, by this time, bustling restaurant. “These flags were painted for our country’s bi-centennial celebration held here in 1976. They were painted by service members, Air force I am told, and are representations of the flag as it was in 1776, 1876 and 1976.” Wilson said proudly, “We couldn’t discard those. History is here and we intend to preserve it in the look and feel of the restaurant. Even the stairs leading up to the second floor were painted with the names of the thirteen original colonies.”
Her intense desire to preserve the history of the town coupled with life and work experience rooted in interior design gave her the vision that would soon take hold. The Hen and The Hog looks as if it were plucked out of a history book and placed in present day Halifax as a gem of an establishment to be discovered over and over again. Wilson takes inspiration where it comes and does so with a rustic, while elegant, flair that appeals to the senses. Lighting provided with the artistic, and fitting, Edison light bulb provides a romantic ambiance. Drink specials hand written on craft paper. The menu, seasonally rotating to allow for the best local products for each dish and presented eloquently on a dish to enhance the way it was intended to be enjoyed. Every detail seems effortlessly perfect. But, without a chef it would not be a restaurant. Without a chef with exceptional talent it would not be a great restaurant.
“I had to find a chef that believed in building something, not a chef wanting a job. We had to be in it together and share in a vision we both could create.” Wilson at this time speaking of Executive Chef and Co-Creator of The Hen & The Hog, Chelsi Hogue. “When I was looking to put a restaurant here, I knew one thing. I knew the food had to be fantastic.” And, did Wilson nail it when joining forces with Hogue. “What Chelsi brings in talent in the kitchen she brings double in work ethic and passion. She creates the menu with an artistic flair drawing on the surroundings of the town. Sourcing as much locally as she can while bringing style to each menu item. Chelsi is one of a kind and we just clicked from the first email exchange,” a beaming Wilson described.
“Chelsi has determination. A determination I recognize in myself. One to build something that could be great”, Wilson said as food was being served.
Hogue, who by this time joined the conversation, born in Fairbanks, Alaska, grew up in an environment of dinner parties thrown by her “semi-artsy” mother in Goldsboro, North Carolina. “My mom has always loved to dine, and I was treated to ‘experience dining’ early in life”, Hogue recalled. Hogue’s mother, an Air Force wife and the culinary visionary in the family, laid foundations in the love of food and service. Food played a big role in the Hogue family’s regular routine. “Halibut was one of my first words”, a smiling Hogue said. “We moved from Alaska when I was four, but I remember going to the local restaurant and eating ‘Fresh. Alaskan. Halibut.’.”
These early experiences began to shape the young Hogue. “I knew I wanted to cook professionally by the time I was 16”, the self-assured Hogue stated. “After we moved to North Carolina, I became familiar with some of the Southern traditions surrounding food sourcing. Backyard tomato plants, roadside stands, all the things that were grown around home. I guess you could say I was all about local food from a very early age.”
This love of all things food led the Hogue to get more involved with related activities in high school which gained the future culinary visionary to an early acceptance at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, N.C. “I was enrolled the first year [Johnson & Wales] was open. But, after almost a year, I didn’t feel it was best investment for me to continue there. I needed to create and feel the dish that was being made,” Hogue said. “I decided to leave Charlotte and go home.”
This decision to follow her instinct paid dividends with a position at a local country club near her home in Goldsboro. “I learned to cook professionally from a Baptism of fire, so to speak, through trial and error, sink or swim.” Lessons learned in this fashion have shaped Hogue into the celebrated Chef she is today. “My real experience and knowledge come from getting up and putting on my whites and non-slips for years. One of my favorite sayings, ‘I hired you on the assumption you could cook’ because that is the way it was brought to me.”
Hogue recounts her experiences in the kitchen as an educational journey. “I learned then I moved on to the next experience. Until now, I had never really found the place, my place. I cooked in Faison, N.C., a French restaurant in Raleigh, and a resort in the mountains that was part of the Southern Living Hotel Collection. I took a long ‘educational field trip’ to Chicago and staged at Michelin starred restaurants. I was growing in experience, growing as a person. I needed to take it all in before I could become the chef I wanted to be.”
At times the journey has been a heartbreaking struggle for the young chef entrepreneur. “You have to really love the restaurant business, because it’s hard”, Hogue said. “Being in your early twenties, trying to make a place in this business, times of real doubt can creep in if you let it. So, I was determined to become a culinary sponge. Learning everything I could from whomever would teach me and put my twist on it to make it something more. That is what The Hen and The Hog represents for me. That’s what the town of Halifax represents. The history and the struggle of so many that came before.”
Hogue takes her role in the historic landscape very seriously, as does Wilson. “The friendships and the bonds that are made over a meal are too many to count”, Hogue says smiling. “I just cook. It’s natural for me. It is why I do what I do, for our diners. I want them to have a memorable experience surrounded by great food.”
Home has been a recurring theme in the conversation to this point with both Wilson and Hogue. “I couldn't call any other environment home”, Hogue explained. “The relationships in this business are very personal, you are quite willing to take a bullet for the valued team member and friend standing next to you. It is a family experience. I love it enough that every menu I write I try and outcook myself, I always try to make my best what I am working on at the moment. I do it for our visitors and the person standing next to me. It is love. It is home.”
“Patterson recognized something in me and we clicked instantly”, Hogue speaks of her Co-Creator. “I’m not entirely sure how Patterson instantly saw this in me, but she must have because she is nothing but supportive and stays focused on a high vision for the restaurant, and in turn, Halifax. She is a true class act, with a heart of gold. A mentor and motivator in every way.” High regards for a business relationship that began with a simple email. “Patterson should have a statue built in her honor, or something, because she is one of the best things Halifax has seen. Her passion, her perseverance, her love of the town. That is who she is.”
Speaking of their working relationship, Hogue says, “We live by the seat of our pants, working from email to email, constantly dealing with the matters of delayed and utmost importance. The aim now is to grow the restaurant and help the town. I see her vision clearly and she sees mine. Looking at where we go next. We just fit.”
Giving recognition has never been a difficult task for Hogue. She said, “I can’t take any credit without giving special credit to my sous chef, Jessica Ricks. That girl is in that kitchen, rain or shine, laugh or cry, every day. She is new in her culinary career and has a drive that is special to see unfold. She isn't the flighty artist; she is the dedicated mercenary that makes the operation thrive. Being a solid, solid sous chef, she is a mother of two, and a very special young lady. I look forward to seeing her every morning. She is family to me.”
History. Home. Family. The focus for the conversation of the day. Some may see these three simple words and have a different and distinct meaning for each. But, for Patterson Wilson and Chelsi Hogue, one must put the same emphasis and meaning on each. With each having a special connection not only to each other, but to the business they are building and the town they are helping to revitalize through hard work, dedication, and lots of love. From a town that gained prominence during a time of fighting for independence comes a business and two very special ladies that are still fighting. But, this is a different fight, a fight for preservation and they plan to do it through a little place on South King Street in Halifax, North Carolina. The Hen and The Hog.
Copyright The Hen & The Hog Restaurant - Halifax, NC. All rights reserved.