Raleigh’s James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen is selling her lease for Joule coffee shop and restaurant to chef Sunny Gerhart, who will convert the space to St. Roch Oyster + Bar.
Joule, where Gerhart is executive chef, will continue until Dec. 31 and then it will become his new restaurant in downtown Raleigh.
Christensen, who won best chef southeast from the James Beard Foundation, took over the former Wilmoore Cafe in 2013 and converted it into Joule. She tapped Gerhart to lead the kitchen.
Gerhart and Christensen have a long history together. He was her sous chef when she opened Poole’s Diner, the flagship restaurant in her six-restaurant-and-bar empire in downtown Raleigh. Christensen launched Poole’s with the financial help of philanthropist and businesswoman Eliza Kraft Olander.
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In a note sent out Wednesday morning, Christensen explained that Gerhart gave her notice earlier this year that he wanted to open his own restaurant. He was looking at locations but it soon became clear to both of them that the best option was for her to sell him the lease and equipment at Joule.
“After thinking through his situation, I realized I had the opportunity to create an entry point into this business for Sunny in a way that’s unique from what anyone else could offer him. I had the chance to do for him what Eliza Kraft Olander had done for me back in 2007 when it was my dream to open my very own restaurant, Poole’s Diner, in downtown Raleigh,” Christensen wrote. “In short, Sunny has spent so many years believing in and working for my dreams in food and hospitality here in Raleigh. I am now excited to focus on his dream, and to be a small part of helping him to make it happen.”
Gerhart is well-known in the chef’s community in the Triangle. Raised in a military family, Gerhart ended up in North Carolina because his father’s military career led the family to Camp Lejeune, where Gerhart graduated from high school. Gerhart ended up going to culinary school after a job at a wine store in Greenville helped him develop an interest in food an wine.
After a year working at Willow, a well-regarded Arlington, Va., restaurant, Gerhart returned to North Carolina. He worked at the now-closed Enoteca Vin in Raleigh, then followed Christensen, the former Vin chef, to Poole’s. He also worked for Amy Tornquist at Watts Grocery.
In the email sent out Wednesday morning, Gerhart said the new restaurant will represent where his family is from and grew up: the St. Roch neighborhood of New Orleans.
“I’m grateful to Ashley for this opportunity, and even more grateful to have her support,” Gerhart wrote. “I cherished the experience of helping her open Poole’s nearly 10 years ago, so it feels like things have come full circle as our working relationship evolves, and she helps me open my first project.”
St. Roch Oyster + Bar will be at 223 Wilmington St., Raleigh.