then & now: martha worley

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 Martha Worley!


What was it like working at Irregardless back then?

Well, it was overall just an amazing experience. I worked there 17 years altogether since I was 22. It was like I grew up there and being so young and also being surrounded by people I worked with. It happens in restaurant work that the group of people that worked there over the years were a combination of pretty interesting folks with interests in art, musicians, and working their way through college. My youngest brother worked part time to make his way through NC State. One of the woman who worked with me through Sunday brunch was Allen Stewart. She was very funny person and an artist and her best friend was David Sadera. So we spent a lot of time just hanging out at her house and David would be there and funny things coming out of David’s mouth constantly. And through it all, we had a great learning experience as far as cooking different foods. It was a culinary experience that you wouldn’t get at any cooking school.


What was your main job?

I mainly cooked. The only time I would’ve baked is if I had to substitute for one of the bakers. It wasn’t that often. I also worked as a server in the evenings. I’d work a shift during the day in the kitchen and then come back after a few hours and work on the night shift as a server, which was a nice way of getting feedback on some of the food that I’d made and that was invaluable information for me. What we did in the day was, as we served lunch, there would be preparation first thing in the morning before the lunch shift, like salads or soups that would be served at lunch. After that would finish, we would start prepping food for the nighttime. Since it wasn’t a steak and potatoes restaurant where the food was just grabbed out of the fridge and slapped onto the grill to cook, it was very labor intensive to make. For instance, we made our own bean burgers every day. We would cook soy beans and run them through an old-fashion meat grinder with carrots, onions, all kinds of other things, herbs and make the bean burgers right there every day. That took a lot of labor. And it was something we would talk about in the morning, what we would make for dinner, begin cooking on it, and finish up in the early afternoon. Then the food would be taken out and finished off for the dinner service.


What drew you to the restaurant?

It was a real anomaly in Raleigh to have a vegetarian restaurant and to have something that was a real attraction for people of all ages, but those especially interested in different lifestyles and different styles of cooking and eating. I was a student at NC State when Irregardless opened. I didn’t have much money, but I could always go there for lunch and I could get a big vegetable salad with raw vegetables and a baked sweet potato fresh out of the oven. It costed very little money but it was incredibly healthy and got me through a lot of days when I was a freshman at the university. So then I went to work at a deli for two years, but the whole time, I knew I wanted to work at Irregardless. I finally applied for the job, got it and it was a dream job for me.


How did working there affect your life?

The main thing was that there was a great crew of friends on board. Especially in restaurant work, I think people are drawn to their coworkers, maybe in ways that doesn’t happen so much in other work environments. I had a friend years ago who said whenever he moved to a new town, he would have his day job but he always like to get a part time job in the evening at a restaurant because he said it was the quickest way to meet people and make friends. When I was working at the restaurant, I had a circle of friends, Marsha Owen and her husband, Rick Moss, Sarah Goddin who is now the manager of Quail Corners bookstore, and her husband Scott. It was a great working environment because when we got off work, we knew that we had friends to spend time with. We once lived in small apartments close to the restaurant and so we could just walk down the street and spend time at each other’s apartments. It was a nice family feeling for us all.


Have you gone back to the restaurant at all?

I love going back. I go back to eat there and say hello to Arthur. I’ve met some people, not recently, but over the years that worked there and they were very close and had quirky, always interesting, and friendly so I think that trend has continue at the restaurant. Every time I’ve gone back, I’ve never had a bad meal and it was great to see Arthur’s face again. I’m especially impressed with the garden he started.


What’s something you miss about the cafe?

The main thing that I miss is the cooking environment because we had so many great ingredients available to us and when I worked there, Arthur would go to the farmer’s market every day and load up his truck with produce and bring it in. In those days, it was more of a local farmer’s market. It wasn’t so much fruit from Peru or tomatoes from Guatemala. It was more in-state produce. So when it came in, we were able to take the ingredients of the day and make whatever we wanted with it. We would sit down every day and have a cook’s meeting. We would talk about what we would prepare according to the season and the ingredients available. We would sit at a booth in the cafe and when we got an espresso machine for the first time, Arthur would come to the cooks and asked us if we wanted an espresso drink, how we wanted it prepared and he would make it for us himself. It was a nice time to brainstorm what to make for the day. Just being able to cook in that way is a dream come true so I do miss that.


What do you do now?

It’s pretty funny, I actually do pretty much the same thing that I was doing at Irregardless in downtown Asheville at a restaurant called 67 Biltmore. It’s a little different because we don’t have dinner service. It’s a breakfast and lunch cafe, very casual and I get to cook a lot of good food. I get to use my own recipes quite a bit of the time and I’m lucky in that respect. I worked at Irregardless for 17 years and I thought that would be the longest I’d spend anywhere, but I’ve actually worked at 67 Biltmore for 20 years now. I also have a small landscaping business of my own. I take care of other people’s gardens, some of the downtown’s window boxes and container gardens.


What’s a significant story you have that you remember?

I remember the day the group photo was taken, it’s still on the website. And a few years back, it was published in the newspaper because they were doing a story on the original free thinkers in Raleigh and hippie-type people and they published that picture. The group picture was taken in front of the restaurant on the sidewalk and we were just called out at a moment’s notice to pose for the picture that was going to go in the Irregardless cookbook. Even though I have a terrible memory, I remembered that day like it was yesterday. I ran out of the kitchen with a zucchini in my hand that I was getting ready to cut up and two of the employees, one being myself, had our dogs at work. They wouldn’t be inside, but they would wait for us outside until we got off work. So there are two dogs in the picture, Marsha Owen is in the picture and I like the fact that the picture is still on the website. It’s just very exciting for me.

Another significant thing was when Arthur decided to bring the employees together more, every morning, there’d be a big empty spot out back and we would get in a big circle and we would dance and sing and if the delivery drivers come out and drop off our milk, they would come out and dance with us. It was a funny thing to think back about, but they were good times. As people say, “those were the good ol’ days”, that’s what they would talk about.