Midtown Raleigh News

Marking 20 years with lobster

When Renee and Tucker McDonald look back on their 17-plus years of marriage, their memories go back to Margaux’s restaurant in North Raleigh. It was there that they had their first date.

“She spilled a glass of wine on me,” Tucker said. To which Renee quickly responded, “I didn’t. A server spilled a glass of wine on you.”

They’re the type of couple that finishes each other’s sentence. And the kind of customer that has stayed loyal to Margaux’s these past 20 years.

Margaux’s opened in 1992 and celebrates its 20th anniversary June 7 with a lobster festival full of food, magic, music and many of its loyal customers. But the celebration is more than a reflective look at one restaurant’s success. It’s the celebration of a family that happens to work together.

It’s the creation of Steven Horowitz. He came here from Manhattan where he operated another restaurant on Fire Island in New York. When it opened, Margaux’s specialized in French Nouvelle cuisine, though its menu has changed steadily over the years, adding varied items that change on a regular basis.

Horowitz grew up in the food business. His dad owned coffee shops that served food all over Manhattan, but Horowitz wanted a different life for himself.

“Growing up in the restaurant business, all you want to do is get out of the restaurant business,” he said.

He decided to go into advertising, but when he started work at a small boutique firm, Horowitz quickly realized his mistake.

“The first day I walked in there, I just knew that was not my calling,” he said.

When he came to Raleigh in the early ’90s, the space now occupied by Margaux’s housed a hunting store. Horowitz described it as a place for the “Beverly Hills kind of hunter,” complete with mahogany cabinets and gold-tipped arrows. After that store went under, Horowitz was there to take advantage of the opening in the Brennan Station shopping center. On May 12, 1992, Margaux’s was born.

Horowitz attributes the restaurant’s staying power to the hard work of the staff and owners.

“A lot of it has to do with both partnersare here all the time,” he said. “We are in the trenches with these guys.”

That’s a fact not overlooked by their employees. Horowitz says they see the effort he and his partner, Andrew Pettifer, put into the business. And they respond in kind.

These guys, we’re all family. We really are,” Horowitz said. “We’re just kind of ingrained in each other. We’re just a big, happy, dysfunctional brother/sister tandem that just works well.”

Talking to many of his employees, there’s no doubt he was telling the truth. Many of them have worked at the restaurant on and off for 10 years or more. Some left, looking for something better, then returned when they realized Margaux’s was where they were happiest after all.

“A couple of us have had many career changes,” said L.J. Rebhan, one of the servers at Margaux’s. “I was an IT consultant and I didn’t think I would go back to waiting tables. But when it comes down to it, I love it.”

Tammie Medlin and Melanie Hansen are two servers who have been at the restaurant off and on since the early 90s. The joy they found in their job was evident as we sat down to speak. I asked them about the upcoming anniversary party they’re working. I would be stressed if I had to handle as many customers as they’re probably going to face. But they’re looking forward to it.

“It’s just like a big party that we’re invited to,” Medlin said. “We just happen to be working it.”

Horowitz has two sons, Zachary and Jeremy, who have been around the restaurant since they were born. Many of the staff have watched them grow, and now, as the two 19-year-olds attend college, Horowitz contemplates their futures. Specifically, whether he wants them taking over for him when he’s done.

“I will definitely hand it over to them if they want it,” he said. “But personally growing up in the business and doing everything I’ve done, I want them to do it smarter.”

As for the McDonalds, the couple who had their fateful first date at Margaux’s, they’ve gotten to know Horowitz and some of his staff over the years. They’re still getting to know each other and their respective tastes though. I asked them for their favorite menu item. Renee said escargot. Tucker turned to her with a surprised look and said, “Really?” His favorite meal depends on the menu, he said, but his most recent pick was the grouper. They may disagree on menu items, but on one thing, the McDonalds are united.

“We enjoy the ambience and the food,” Renee said.

Perhaps you would, too.