A smile spreads across Richard Procida’s face as he sits down at a table in his new restaurant and market in downtown Cary.
“I’ve been waiting a lifetime to do this,” Procida says.
Sure, he could be referring to the year-long process it’s taken to open Pro’s Epicurean Market & Cafe, with all of the kinks and challenges that come with opening a restaurant and specialty foods store from scratch.
But he’s really talking about returning to his first love: cooking. After decades of working in the newspaper business, finishing his career as a publisher, he is opening the restaurant he’s dreamed about. Pro’s, located in the former Dorry’s Downtown Deli on East Chatham Street in the renovated Mid-Town Square shopping center, opened Monday and is having a soft opening this week.
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“All the planning is finally all done,” he said. “And you finally get to do what you love to do. And that’s cooking and working with people, and just trying to put out the best product possible.”
The menu features French and Italian influences: crepes, sandwiches, salads as well as fish, pasta, meat and chicken entrees. Mozzarella is made on site, with the signature dish being blackened mozzarella: homemade cheese coated in Cajun spices and then torched, like you might a creme brulee.
“You know what it is, it’s sharing my loves and sharing my family’s loves,” Procida said.
The products are inspired by his travels in Italy, where his family is from, and other trips. Pro’s has cases of charcuterie, cheeses, beer, homemade sauces and food prepared by Procida. It also has shelves with specialty olive oils, vinegars, salts, spices, pastas and other ingredients to make meals at home. Pro’s bottles balsamic vinegars on site, infused with fig and chocolate. Olive oil is infused with garlic or basil. Cups for sampling are next to the vats.
Some cheese trays are pre-prepared for grab-and-go. He has other dishes that are prepared and can be reheated at home.
Procida and his wife, Karen, moved to North Carolina from New York last year, after he retired as publisher and president of Messenger Post Media in the Rochester, N.Y., region. Their goal was to find a place they could retire to – and for Procida to launch his restaurant concept.
He took classes at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in the late ’70s and early ’80s and worked in restaurants in New York and Pennsylvania. But as he started a family, he decided to work in newspapers so he’d have more time to spend with his young children. He acknowledges that he didn’t realize at the time how demanding newspapers would be of his time; much of his career was as a circulation director.
Still, he’s thankful for the experience. He said it gave him the business skills needed to create his restaurant.
“I would never be able to do what I’ve done, opening a place up from scratch,” he said.
He initially planned to open a market with a small cafe, or maybe a wine bar with small plates. When he was introduced to the space on East Chatham Street – part of a larger project from Northwoods Associates – he fell in love with the accordion doors that open up to a patio. It’s across from the new Pizzeria Faulisi and just around the corner from Bond Brothers Beer Co.
“It kind of catapulted from there,” he said. “When you have two or three different concepts, so does the menu.”
The menu is ambitious and contains several items made from family recipes. Francesca’s sausage pie is from his mother. The manicotti is from his grandmother. Sharing the family recipes, along with products he’s curated from local, national and international food purveyors, reminds him of the family dinners he grew up with. With his family, meals were a time for gathering and sharing memories around the dinner table.
Normal meals might be two courses. Family events could start at noon and go past midnight as they made their way through six courses.
“You just ate and drank,” he said. “This was a tradition. ... It’s special. It’s the fabric that brings us all together.”
As part of that family tradition, his son, Joe, who has a background in hotels, is now working at Pro’s. His daughter, Christina, is helping out during opening week, and another son, Brian, is expected to make his way to North Carolina to pitch in, too.
While Procida’s nickname is Pro, he named the restaurant for his father, Anthony, who also was known as Pro. Already, Procida relishes hearing people say his restaurant’s name out loud.
“It’s a great reminder of my father,” he says.