then & now: sarah goddin

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 Sarah Goddin!

What was it like working at Irregardless back then?

Well, it was very exciting because it was a vegetarian restaurant and I was a vegetarian. I had graduated from high school and had gone traveling to Europe and came back. While I was gone, Irregardless had opened up. When I got back into town, I was very excited to see it and I worked there from at least 1976-1979. It was pretty much in its early days. I actually lived right down the street from Irregardless most of the time I was working there. There were six people who lived in that house and we all worked there. In fact, Marsha said this in her interview as well, four of us ended up marrying each other and we’re still married. Marsha got married to Rick and I got married to Scott. When we first met, he was a dishwasher and I was part of the waitstaff. And then I left to go traveling again and so did he, both of us barely knowing each other. We both came back to Irregardless the second time as cooks. That’s when we started going out and are still married many, many years later. I still keep in touch with all six of the people who lived in that house and we’re all still good friends, so it was very much a family environment. A lot of us worked split shifts and in between the lunch and evening shifts, we’d either go to the thrift shop or go shoot pool or do things like that. It was a lot of fun; hard work, but a lot of fun.

And you are probably the first person I spoke to who worked at the restaurant who was actually a vegetarian. Was it strange working with one of the few vegetarian restaurant in town?
It was wonderful. I think Irregardless was the only vegetarian restaurant at the time that I know of. It was great. I didn’t have to compromise my beliefs to work there. And to have truckloads of fresh vegetables and Arthur would go down to the farmer’s market weekly and bring more stuff. You know, he was very innovative – he still is – and creative. He would discover new vegetables and new technologies. He would meet people, and I think some of them may have come from NC State’s programs. He would invite guest chefs who are from different countries who were in Raleigh for various reasons to come and teach the cooks about their cuisine and present it as a special meal. We had somebody from South America and somebody from India, so there were lots of innovative and creative collaborations going on. I think he came back from France and brought the first Roboku. It was the first food processor any of us had seen. He demonstrated it and we were all, “oh wow!” and tried different types of things. Sure, it was very primitive compared to today’s, but that was new technology.

How did working there affect your life?
Well, of course I met my husband so that was a big deal. I was already interested in food, but I hadn’t done a lot of cooking so that was a wonderful experience to really learn and develop. It’s still a big focus for my husband and I to spend time in the kitchen. I still have strong friendships that I developed from that time and I learned a lot about organization and small businesses, what you have to continue to do to put yourself out there.

What’s one thing you miss about the café?
Oh gosh. A lot of things, let me think. The comradery, so that’s good. You know, it’s funny because I’m still dealing with the public all the time, many more than other people. I guess the food; just being a part of doing that on a daily basis. On the other hand, I will say that’s also the one thing I don’t miss because my mother used to have a saying: cooking is great, except it’s so damn daily. Being immersed in food is great, but it can also be extremely exhausting. Combining food and people was a great experience though.

What significant stories do you have or do you remember?
I remember very … well no. I’ll skip that one. Some stories I probably wouldn’t be able to say. I remember one time that my husband was working before we were married and we had some Indian guest chefs who had taught us how to do Indian cuisine and they left. After that, we decided to do an Indian food night for the Indian community in Raleigh and a lot of them came for the meal. We took the food out and we were really excited and we asked them how it was and they would say, “you know, it’s good but not very hot.” So we’d go back and tell my husband and Rick who were the chefs that night it wasn’t hot enough and they would dump in more hot spices and we’d take it out. It kept happening over and over again and they just could never get it hot enough. I think now it would’ve changed because these days, people are so into hot foods around here, but back then in the 70s, we couldn’t make it hot enough for them. It wasn’t in our cooking vocabulary to do that. Another thing is we ran out of food regularly. We had the menu up on a chalkboard and we would just cross off entrées as we ran out because it was very unpredictable. We never knew if we were going to get 5 people or 50 people for dinner. Sometimes we would be down to just one entrée and usually people were okay with it, but sometimes they weren’t. We had a lot of characters, I would say, because we were the only vegetarian restaurant that I know of in North Carolina at that time. But people would come from quite a ways who were vegetarian and we had some really interesting people. We had this one group of four or five that were, back then, kind of hippie farmers who were way out in the country and they’d take a booth and order about ten entrées, which is a lot of food. Plus salads and desserts and they would eat it all and you could not bring them enough food. But they’d always say, “whatever you do, don’t put it in the nuke”. Microwaves were still pretty new technology and they insisted that not happen. Different characters like that were regulars, eccentric people who were a lot of fun to deal with.

Do you still keep in touch with anyone there?
I do. Of the six people who lived there, I still keep in touch with them regularly and my brother works there at the time and then there are other people too. Hermine Brown who was the baker and various other people. They were definitely lasting friendships and I still eat there and I’m very impressed with Irregardless today. It’s so well run and everybody there is so nice and I’m just very impressed. In fact, last Christmas I think it was, my whole family – with my brothers and sisters and their spouses – went to Irregardless for dinner. We were all sitting there by the table and, you know, Arthur knows all of us over the years. My parents ate there regularly long after I and my brother had left working there. He always spoke with them and he said to me, “you know your parents are still here; their DNA is in the restaurant.” That was very touching to me that he made a point to come over and speak to all of us, many of whom he had not seen for many years and to remind us of how well he remembered our parents. That was neat.

And what do you do now?
I am the general manager of Quail Ridge books which is in North Hills now. We’ve been in the community for 34 years. I did have my own book store in Cary for about 10 years and I think Arthur was probably my first author event at that store back in ’85. But, I’ve been with Quail Ridge books since 1996 and I enjoyed very much and see a lot of people from Irregardless there and enjoy still being a part of the Raleigh community.