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Restaurateur couple mixes culinary skill with business acumen
Greg and Subrina Collier blend strengths
 
Published Wednesday, August 14, 2019 1:12 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

FILE PHOTO
Subrina and Greg Collier are expanding their culinary empire with the opening of Leah & Louise in Camp North End.

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Best friends and business partners only scratch the surface of what makes Chef Greg and Subrina Collier successful.  


Chef Greg—the first black chef in Charlotte to earn a James Beard Foundation Award nomination—and Subrina moved to the area in 2012. Known for their culinary expertise at Uptown Yolk, their latest venture, Leah & Louise, opens this fall at Camp North End. The restaurant is named after Chef Collier’s late sister and grandmother while also offering a nod to their hometown of Memphis.


The Tennessee couple went into business together just before their second wedding anniversary. Entering the restaurant world was always in the cards, but not before Subrina explored a career in the pharmaceutical industry. While she liked working in a pharmacy, she found it “monotonous.”


“Greg already knew that he wanted a restaurant,” Subrina said. “I was the one who was like, ‘oh, well I’m going into a different field. I wanted to be a pharmacist.”


Subrina’s restaurant days began at age 15.


“You know when your mom says, ‘well work your little side job,’ it wasn’t my real job—it wasn’t supposed to be,” she said. “It was supposed to be my job to make money.”


Yet, she fell in love with the rush of the experience.


 “I was always waiting tables—always in front of the house, and I loved it,” she said. “I loved that adrenaline. I loved that constant critique of, ‘this needs to be done better,’ because there is always something you can improve in the restaurant industry. I don’t care how good you are.”


As the couple transitioned from Arizona to Charleston to Charlotte, the goal was to find jobs rather than to open their own place just yet.


“We didn’t come thinking we were going to get a restaurant,” Subrina said.


While she reconsidered returning to pharmaceutical work, Greg suggested doing their own thing.


“He convinced my dad to take out of his 401k, about $22,000,” Subrina said. “He was just like, ‘make it work,’ and we found this little rundown shopping center. It was old, really old, and that’s where we had our first location. It was a natural thing for me to jump back into the restaurant industry.”
Working in the front of the house allows Subrina to see guests and patrons evolve.


“I like seeing growth in people, and I feel like I get to see that a lot in the front. I get to see a lot of satisfaction—instant. You can watch someone’s mood change three times over in the restaurant from ‘I’m agitated, I’m impatient’ to ‘I’m happy. I’m fulfilled.’ That’s the reaction you want most of the time.”
Critiques come with the territory.

“You have to put your feelings to the side, because someone is always critiquing you,” Subrina said. “‘You need to do this. I didn’t like this enough. This is too salty. This is too this. You’re too expensive.’ You learn how to put your feelings to the side about a lot of things in the restaurant industry, and take it for what it is, and make better decisions outside of your emotions. That takes time, because even with us critiquing one another I’m hearing it from the chef critiquing the front of the house, and not Greg critiquing Subrina, because the front of the house is always my domain, and the kitchen is his. Sometimes we’ll crossover paths. We try not to. That keeps confusion down. As long as you’re OK with getting critiqued all day, the restaurant industry is amazing.”


Downtime is just as important. It can be as simple as seeing a movie together. For Greg’s birthday on July 29, they went to see the new Spider-Man movie.
“Nothing crazy,” Greg said. “It wasn’t a Las Vegas vacation. We weren’t gone for a month. It was just a pause from everything we’ve got going on. Then today we’re back at it.”


It’s a matter of balancing work, play and letting go of control.


“You have to have those times, I think in any job, especially in the restaurant, because you’re always exchanging energies with people, every couple minutes,” Subrina said. “It’s very important to take some downtime. Take a day off, two days off. Take a vacation…I’m getting better at doing this. Sometimes I go through, and I’ll have to work nine or 10 days straight, and then I’ll take off four. Having someone else to put those responsibilities on, that’s a very big part of preventing burnout in this industry, especially as an owner. You have to have to have someone you trust to help carry some of that weight. If not, you’re stressed, you take it home, especially with us being partners, we can’t doing that.”


Said Greg: “It’s really about trying to find moments to do stuff, and trying to find moments not to do stuff at the same time. We watch TV. I play Xbox from time to time. It’s not a 24-hour grind every day. We just get as much done as we can in little spirts. I can’t sit on the computer for four hours. I can sit on there for two, and I can grab a coffee and I can be on the computer working for two hours. After my coffee wears off, I’m going to sit down, and probably play a game or watch TV, because I don’t really have any more focus left in me. Then I go to sleep, and we wake up, and figure out how to do it the next day.”

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