It's a balmy August evening on the patio at Floyd's 1921 and the sounds of laughter are wafting through the historic downtown Morehead City neighborhood. Perched on stools at the front of the 'L' shaped space are the contestants of "How Well do You Know Your Person" an hilarious game show reminiscent of the "The Newlywed Game." Ray Tillery, a popular Morehead City icon himself, is perfect as emcee.
While the audience – a collective of people out for a great meal and those who have simply strolled down to the outside bar for an evening cocktail – are soaking up the live entertainment.
There are few places – if any – where one can be enticed to sit outside on an 85° evening, yet it's hard to resist the patio at Floyd's. Its blend of upscale casual is welcoming to everyone, and its live music and creatively imagined entertainment are merely an added bonus.
Inside, the rooms of the historic Long House serve as one of the town's most popular fine dining establishments. While some walls have been removed, others have been left in place creating quiet nooks and private dining rooms that eliminate the noise found in open dining spaces. Despite its fine dining tag, there is something innately comfortable about Floyd's. Tucked away off the main drag in downtown Morehead City, Floyd's isn't the loudest or the flashiest restaurant in town. There are no neon signs luring you in from the highway. Instead, since opening in 2005, the owners Floyd and Shana Olmstead, have developed a following through hard work and consistently delivering a great meal.
The pair are as different as night and day. Floyd, an introvert by nature, is quiet, soft-spoken and shy, until the discussion turns to food. Then, his excitement is palpable. Shana, on the other hand, is bubbly and outgoing – it's easy to see how her career in hospitality management and marketing flourished. Together, they are a perfect complement to one another. But they're not resting on their laurels and dwelling on their perfect match – instead, they're trying to decide what kind of sausage to add to the new charcuterie tray and which tables should be removed first from the restaurant for updating.
A Carteret County native, many will remember Floyd from his days at the old Royal Pavillion on Bogue Banks. It wasn't his first food-related job in Carteret County – his first job was at the Town & Country in Morehead City where he cut meat at the age of 14. Later, there was a stint at the old Western Steer on Bridges Street, where First Citizens Bank is located today. He left the area soon after to study and explore his love of food before returning to work with David Greenleaf at the Coral Bay Club and spending 11 years at the Royal Pavillion, where he quickly developed a following, in part because of the popular German Nights.
It all, however, was ultimately leading to his namesake.
Over the course of several years the couple discussed the notion of opening their own restaurant. They looked at a variety of locations. But it wasn't until they walked through the doors of the Long House that they were sure it would become a reality. Nikolas, which was previously housed in the former home, quietly went on the market. The signs weren't even up outside, Shana said, when a realtor friend suggested they do a walk through.
It's not on the water, which could be a big disadvantage for an eatery along the coast, and that was initially a concern, said Shana. But one evening, she found herself sitting on the back patio at the Arendell Room, there was music playing and she was enjoying the company of friends when she had something of an epiphany. There was no water in sight.
"I like to believe that if you have a good product and provide good service, people will drive into the middle of the forest to find you," said Chef Floyd, noting that you don't have to be on the beaten path. In fact, sometimes it's better not to be.
So the couple, visited the Bridges Street restaurant and Floyd said as soon as he walked in the door he started to write his menu.
"It instantly reminded me of my grandmother's house in New Bern," said Floyd, reminiscing of the large family home where everyone gathered, the smell of home cooking permeating the rooms. "I could already smell the cooking."
"And that's exactly what we were looking for," added Shana. "We wanted something that would inspire him." There was no other criteria that mattered nearly as much – not even a water view. Now, when folks talk about Floyd's, it is the food that is mentioned, a combination of true Southern comfort food that people recognize and love blended with an element of classic French cuisine.
There is nowhere else in the area where one can find deviled eggs on the daily menu, nor a menu that has a more decadent serving of meatloaf. But that doesn't mean you can't find blackened tuna or macadamia encrusted grouper. The juxtaposition of fine dining and comfort food – from mac and cheese to jerk mahi and coconut shrimp – make it an ideal restaurant for family gatherings. Kids can grab a $10 burger while mom and dad can opt for something a little more refined. In the end, everyone goes home satisfied.
As plans for the restaurant were taking shape, Shana said Floyd was constantly focused on perfecting the menu. One night while in bed, she said, he sat straight upright from a dead sleep to announce "we'll have hoisin grilled salmon with a plum Asian vinaigrette" before falling back into his pillow. Even in his sleep, his creative twist on comfort cuisine was taking shape.
"Now that can never come off the menu because he sat up in bed and said it," she added with a laugh.
That seems to be the sentiment with much of Floyd's menu. While many restaurants change their menu with the seasons or during an annual break, the Olmsteads have found that any change to the menu comes with repercussions. Many of the items have developed such a following that it makes it difficult to change it up. If Mr. Smith, who comes in every Tuesday night for a plate of meatloaf finds it's no longer on the menu, he may decide not to come next Tuesday.
The answer was found with a broad collection of nightly special features. It allows the chefs a chance to be creative and it also keeps that popular regular menu in place – much to the chagrin of local patrons.
"We have always believed and always defined ourselves as a 'local' restaurant," said Floyd. "We know that local residents are our base. Doing good business and giving locals a reason to come in is a priority. The tourists are great, but that's just a bonus. It is the locals that keep us open year round."
To continue to serve the locals, and keep their staff employed year-round, the couple made the concerted effort to keep the restaurant open year round. It shuts down for a handful of days around Christmas, but other than that, they are there. It makes it challenging when they want to do renovations or updates to the building, but they haven't found a challenge yet that didn't have a work around. Currently, they're redoing the table tops, and quietly, with little notice, tables are whisked out back, updated, and returned to the restaurant without anyone missing a beat. Painting was done this summer on Sunday nights and Mondays – the only day of the week the restaurant is closed.
"It comes back to the staff," said Shana. "If we close, they don't make any money either. Our staff have mortgages too, and families to support. We wouldn't have this if it wasn't for them. None of this would be possible. So we owe it to them to not close down – to stay open all year and to come up with new and interesting things that will keep bringing the customers back.
"We take our role as employers very seriously," she added. "So when we have those days when we think we don't want to get out of bed we just think of our employees. Here are these folks who work so hard at our request every single day. That alone would be enough to make us want to get moving."
The staff now includes daughter Bella, 14, who started working at the restaurant this summer.
"The first night she was here, I looked out and she was carrying a waiter's tray and all I could think about was her crawling through that room in her diaper when she was little," said Floyd.
There is some magic to bringing children into the family business. Not only does it provide great work experience, but it can provide a platform for a variety of life lessons – from missing football games when no one else is available to work to the independence gained when both parents are tied up at work.
The couple is hands on daily at the restaurant. For Shana, who took the lead of the Hospitality and Culinary Arts program about 10 years ago, that means when she isn't at her day job. While Floyd isn't a staff member, he's an active volunteer.
Fellow chefs Charles Park of Beaufort Grocery, Co. and Anthony Garnett of the Coral Bay Club join Floyd in preparing the Escoffier Chefs Dinner Series at the college each year that helps send two culinary students to France for five weeks of study.
The restaurant also participates in the college foundation's annual International Film Festival. Movies from Hungary, Kenya, Iran, Belgium, France and others are screened over the course of several months with options that include the movie along with a dinner from the country that the film hails from.
"It's like German night exploded," said Shana, hands motioning an animated explosion.
"They pretty much had us going around the world," said Floyd. "But that's what keeps me motivated. We love a challenge. And I love being able to provide our staff with a challenge. To create new things and to learn new things – that's what I love most about food. When I stop learning, that's when I'll retire."
Tack on the catering arm of the restaurant and there is little doubt of how busy this duo is. There are days that find them managing multiple weddings off-site while the restaurant is running at capacity. It makes for a full day, nobody will argue with that. But Floyd can't stress enough how it is those challenging days that keep him motivated and excited.
"It just doesn't feel like I'm going to work – it feels like I'm going to the playground," said the chef. "I'm blessed to be able to do what I love. I'm having fun, every single day."