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Who’s going to Disney World? NC restaurant owner takes her entire staff on vacation.

Scenes from the Cinderella Castle and the ‘Partners’ statue at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, in Bay Lake, Fla., Thursday, April 6, 2017. The owner of the State Farmer’s Market Restaurant in Raleigh paid for her entire staff to travel to Disney World in Orlando.
Scenes from the Cinderella Castle and the ‘Partners’ statue at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, in Bay Lake, Fla., Thursday, April 6, 2017. The owner of the State Farmer’s Market Restaurant in Raleigh paid for her entire staff to travel to Disney World in Orlando. AP

The State Farmers’ Market Restaurant is known for great biscuits, and now it’s famous for a great kindness.

The restaurant was closed last week as the staff went to Disney World — on the boss’ dime.

Restaurant owner Gypsy Gilliam and 53 people — about 20 employees plus their families — loaded a charter bus bound for Disney World Feb. 25. Some workers had worked at the restaurant for decades while others had just a matter of months.

All meals, hotels, transportation and Disney World tickets were covered by Gilliam.

“It’s such a happy, magical place for me,” Gilliam said in a phone interview with The News & Observer Thursday. “I just wanted to do something special for them.”

Gilliam first thought of the most magical road trip on earth last fall. After a busy week around the North Carolina State Fair, she said to a tired line cook, “We just need to go to Disney.”

It became the offhand comment she couldn’t shake from her brain. She hadn’t been in decades, since she took her son, Tony, when he was a kid. He’s now an adult.

“I thought Disney World was perfect because it would work for all ages,” Gypsy Gilliam said. “Most had never been, and I wanted them to have that opportunity. To see the sheer delight on the faces of the adults and the absolute joy of the kids was priceless.”

Gilliam contracted AAA to help organize the trip, and one of the restaurant’s vendors set up the families with care packages in hotel rooms on the Disney property.

Around the holidays, the staff found out about the trip with the excitement building to February.

“You’ve never seen such a group of people having so much fun,” Gilliam said.

Even though she already had paid for a vacation for the staff, Gilliam said the employees, even those who couldn’t go, will still receive their salary for that week.

“They still have rent to pay,” Gilliam said.

In the late ‘90s, Gilliam opened a famously chrome diner in Cary called Gypsy’s Shiny Diner with a controversial design that divided residents at the time.

In 2002, she bought the State Farmers’ Market Restaurant, a Raleigh landmark specializing in feeding breakfast to those stopping by the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market.

In more than two decades of running restaurants, Gilliam said she never closed them for vacations — until last week.

Gypsy Gilliam’s son Tony Gilliam bought the Shiny Diner from his mom in 2006 and sold it last fall. Gypsy Gilliam first floated the notion of the Disney staff vacation to Tony.

“I thought it was the craziest idea I had ever heard,” Tony Gilliam said with a laugh.

“But she started with nothing in her life and has built a really good business,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “That comes from having a great staff. It’s a team effort; she loves them to death. This is 150,000 percent not about her, it’s all about the staff.”

Tony Gilliam, who is UNC’s public address announcer, said he didn’t go along for the trip, having to stay behind for the Tar Heels’ home win against Syracuse. It’s just as well, he said. He may have been too emotional.

“Seeing the reaction from those kids in photos and videos, the tears shed, I’m glad I didn’t go, I would be crying all the time,” he said.

A trip for a single family to Disney World isn’t cheap, let alone 20 families. Tony said he didn’t know how much the trip ultimately cost, and his mother wouldn’t say, except one word.

“It was priceless,” Gypsy said.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.


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