Midtown: Community

Entrepreneur with heart expands business

I’m proud of Carlton Sutton, truly happy for him, inspired by him.

In my lifetime, I have seen lots of African-American business open and, sadly, close. I’ve seen lots of others open, thrive, survive and grow.

But rarely in my recollection of life in Raleigh have I seen a black business expand.

Sutton has done just that, on the heels of recession , with a new Jack’s Seafood on Rock Quarry Road.

For its 30 years on New Bern Avenue, Jack’s has been a go-to for the city’s most consistent offering of down-home fried fish and other seafood. Its other entrees, side dishes and desserts, though, are the Southern cooking that set it apart.

Sutton believes he became the fourth owner of Jack’s when he bought it six years ago this September from Dwayne Greene, owner of Capital Seafood Market.

In December, Sutton opened the doors to a second Jack’s Seafood at 5416 Rock Quarry Road, offering the same menu plus Jack’s Wings, a sweet-n-spicy alternative, and cheesecake. The new Jack’s also stays open a little later: until 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday – because it doesn’t sell breakfast.

“If I’m going to be in business, I should be in business to grow,” said Sutton, 60. “I felt it was a good time to expand the restaurant, and there wasn’t anything out this way that offered Southern-style home-cooking.

“The community has been very receptive to what we have to offer.”

If all goes well in the first year at the new location, Sutton will consider answering a call from customers to expand to mini-city, he said.

The restaurant business wasn’t Sutton’s first entrepreneurial foray.

It’s a drive rooted in his desire to leave a family legacy for his three children and his grandchildren.

“That’s always been my only motivation,” he said.

On June 1, Sutton celebrated 30 years as owner of North Carolina Service Company, a janitorial business with contracts for industrial, commercial, institutional and specialty cleaning.

“I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant, or be in the food business in some way,” he said. “I like interacting with people, and I like the fact that we are able to employ people.

“This is like a bridge-job because, hopefully, it’s filling one of those gaps people sometimes go through with different challenges in life when they are unable to find employment,” Sutton said. “Hopefully, what the jobs I can offer will do for them is kind of fill that gap.”

Liz McKeithen recently had lunch at Jack’s with her husband, Clarence, and two friends, Debbie Moore and Lisa Gardener, who helped the couple pack for an upcoming move to the Southern Pines area.

McKeithen, who is moving from the Tryon Road area, said she has eaten often at Jack’s on New Bern Avenue and is excited to see the restaurant add a new location in Southeast Raleigh.

“The food is good,” she said, nodding toward the chicken pastry on her plate. “It’s worth the drive.”

Even better, McKeithen said, “I love the personal customer service!”

Sutton’s daughter, Andrea, who helps oversee the Rock Quarry Road restaurant, remembered the McKeithens from visits to New Bern Avenue for breakfast.

“She remembered we always ordered the salmon cakes,” McKeithen said, smiling.

Frances Foster said she has passed the new Jack’s every Sunday on her way to Kingdom Hall on Barwell Road.

“This is my first time coming in here,” said Foster, 68, who lives in the nearby Riverbrooke subdivision. “They will be seeing a lot of me.”

Before Foster left, Sutton introduced himself and invited her to call him personally if anything about the food or the service at Jack’s doesn’t meet her satisfaction. She promised she would. She also added a plug for her grandson, whom she said could use some work. Maybe he could clean the restaurant for Sutton, she suggested.

“Leave me your contact information,” Sutton said.

From what I’ve been told and have learned for myself, that’s classic Carlton Sutton.

“He has the knowledge to be an entrepreneur, but he has the heart to be a successful entrepreneur,” said Greg Holden, whose late father, William Holden, expanded his cleaners and tailor businesses to become the first, and perhaps Raleigh’s only, African-American to own a fully operational dry cleaners and laundry.

“There was a time when black businesses thrived in Raleigh,” Holden said. “If it’s out there now, I don’t see it.”

As for Sutton, Holden added, “He truly cares about the product he puts out. It doesn’t matter who says it’s good, if it’s not good to Sutton, it doesn’t pass the mark.”

“He’s no-nonsense – with a heart.”