In one day, Jerome Lauck experienced something that many immigrants only dream about.
On Wednesday, the 50-year-old Frenchman went to Durham and got his U.S. citizenship after more than 20 years in the country. Later that afternoon, he found out he can continue running his restaurant, Sosta Cafe, in downtown Raleigh.
Less than a week earlier, Red Hat told Lauck it planned to let Sosta’s lease expire on the ground floor of its headquarters on Davie Street so WakeMed could expand its medical office. WakeMed operates a family medicine and primary care facility next door to Sosta.
“It was one of those days that’s only possible in the movies,” Lauck said. He became “an American with a business.”
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WakeMed no longer plans to expand into the Sosta retail space, said Stephanie Wonderlick, a spokeswoman for software company Red Hat.
Wonderlick said “we received a call from WakeMed (on Wednesday) saying they had changed their minds and would be forgoing the expansion.”
News that Sosta would have to leave prompted pushback from Red Hat employees. Late last week, a steady flow of Red Hat and Duke Energy employees stopped by the cafe to congratulate Lauck on his good news.
Lindsay Easley, who ordered a sandwich Friday, said she drove downtown for lunch at Sosta three times last week from her job as a counselor in North Raleigh.
“I love this place,” said Easley, 31. “It’s so hard to find good vegan food.”
Lauck, a native of Avignon in southeastern France, moved to the United States about two decades ago after working in the food industry. He partnered with a friend, Luciano Peddis of Sardinia, to open Sosta in 2006, and it quickly became known for its coffee, pastries and lunches with healthy sides like Israeli cous cous and chickpea salad.
“Now that Clyde Cooper’s has moved around the corner, I can claim to be the oldest (restaurant) on this stretch of Davie,” said Lauck, referring to the popular barbecue joint.
Peddis left Sosta after four years, and Lauck has run the business in a European style, keeping flexible hours and developing relationships with customers.
“Some of them came when my daughter was 4 and wandering around eating Cheerios,” he said, recalling his first year in operation. “I’ve met almost 90 percent of my friends from Sosta.”
Business has picked up since Red Hat moved in about five years ago and developers last year finished The Edison apartments across the street. But Lauck says he’s not in it for the money.
He’s relieved and elated he gets to stay where he can serve his customers, who have come to rely on him.
“You know their names. You know when they’re gonna come. You know what they’re gonna drink,” Lauck said. “To me it’s not just a business, it’s my life.”