01 May Then & Now: Marsha Owen
Irregardless has been around for 43 years and has seen many people coming and going, including the wait staff and cooks. To celebrate the years and the people who have helped make the restaurant what it is today, our staff blogger Alix V. has created a Then & Now Blog Series – capturing the special memories of previous employees when they worked at the cafe back then – and what they have been up to now. Let’s catch up with Marsha Owen!
Q: What was it like working at Irregardless Cafe?
Marsha: I think I liked that a lot of people in their early twenties, probably not different from now, worked there. Being that restaurant work can sometimes mean long hours, those people in their 20’s were the people you worked with and socialized with – or perhaps were even living with. For example, my husband, Rick Moss and I were roommates in a house close to the restaurant. We used to be able to walk to the restaurant from there. That happened often, I think. We had another set of friends that were a couple and we were all living in the same house and we all ended up marrying each other. There weren’t that many vegetarian restaurants at the time or nearly as many restaurants as there are now. Also these days, you weren’t very schooled in the culinary arts. I had grown up baking, so I got the job baking at Irregardless. You didn’t worry about what food experience you had or what cooking school you went to back then.
Q: How long were you working at Irregardless?
Marsha: I didn’t work there for that long, I think it was only about two years before I went to Penland School of Crafts. When I moved back to Raleigh and set up my pottery business, I worked at Irregardless as a weekend brunch cook.
Q: Was baking your main priority?
Marsha: Yes, that was mostly what I did and at the time, I think we started the brunch in Raleigh. There were no brunches, if I remember correctly, and I’m not saying it was my idea, but I cooked waffles and my husband cooked omelettes. From time to time, I waited tables and that was something that was pretty common back then too – the cooks would often wait tables some nights. Personally, I thought it was a great thing for them to do because they got to see what it was like to work the front end of the house. It’s not an easy job, being up front. It’s pressure and being pleasant to people when you don’t feel like being pleasant to people and there’s just a lot that goes along with waiting tables and it’s a highly skilled job, I think. I thought that was a great part of the job back then.
Q: Did you do anything else besides being a baker at Irregardless?
Marsha: During the time I was there, I was also studying to be a professional potter. Arthur’s first wife Pamela, hired me to make the sugar bowls and the creamers for the tables. I think that was the first pottery that I sold and it was a really great project because it gave me a focus and a goal to make them consistently the same form over and over like a production potter would. I wanted to study more so I went to Penland School of Crafts in the mountains and I was grateful to Arthur for allowing me to go for three consecutive Springs and two months at a time to travel up to the mountains and study clay. He told me that if I could train somebody to do my job for two months, I could keep the job and continue when I came back.
Q: What significant stories do you have from working at Irregardless?
A: There was a trial back then, the Joann Little trial. And Joann Little was a black woman who had been in prison and had been raped and there were two or three waitresses from Irregardless who were on the jury. That was a big story and it was during the early stages of Irregardless and so that was one of the things that got Irregardless in the news. Back in the early times of Irregardless, that was free publicity. She was proven innocent in the end though.
Q: How did working at The Cafe affect your life?
A: It was where I met my husband so that was significant. He’s six years older than me, but when I think about it, he’s had all this life experience and have gone through those years as a twenty-something trying to figure out life. Working with vegetarians also affected my life and even though I wasn’t a vegetarian, it made me aware of vegetarians, eating more vegetables, and having a great appreciation for vegetarian foods. I felt that being at Irregardless was a good point in my life and allowed me to go in the directions I’ve gone. I even thought about becoming a professional cook, but I decided not to. I enjoyed it so much though and I was also delighted to have the experience of being a baker. There was a woman who worked there for a while, Julian Nayler. She was a good baker, but her baking was very polished. And that was back in a time where there weren’t that many cooking schools, so if someone wanted to cook like she did, they’d have to go to the Culinary Institute. She was extremely generous with her information and she taught me anything she knew how to do. She was, at the time, going to medical school and is now a doctor. Julian gave my baking some real polish and after that, I started making wedding cakes, and really took my cooking to another level. It was just that fortuitous that there was someone with that level of skill and willing to share with me.
For inquiries abou Marsha’s pottery, head to this website.