After more than two decades jump-starting and bolstering Greenville’s downtown restaurant scene, Carl Sobocinski, owner of Soby’s New South Cuisine and president of restaurant group Table 301, which includes eight unique concepts, is planning his exit strategy.
“They’re just birthdays, but last year I hit 50, and at 30, 40, 50, I think you start thinking about things differently,” he says. “At 50, it started becoming more real — ‘Wow, I’ve been doing this for 25 years.’ I still love getting up every day, but there’s also other things that I’m fortunate enough to do with work that I’d like to give more time to.”
But no need for alarm — it will likely take as many as 10 years for his plan to execute fully, and he’ll be involved through the entire process.
Table 301 includes the flagship Soby’s New South Cuisine, Jianna, The Lazy Goat, Nose Dive Gastropub, Passerelle Bistro, Papi’s Tacos, Southern Pressed Juicery, Highway 301 Food Truck, Table 301 Catering & Kitchen, and The Loft at Soby’s.
As Sobocinski, ever the entrepreneur, has always joked, everything is for sale, but maybe this time not in the traditional sense.
The plan, essentially, is for Table 301 employees who express interest in owning one of the restaurants to train with that in mind and begin working their way into ownership through sweat equity and/or a financial commitment. Sobocinski says the opportunity is also available for anyone not already working with Table 301 to join the team with ownership as a goal.
“This is the next level,” Sobocinski says. “Not only do we have great benefits, and work-life balance is important, now there’s the potential opportunity to get into ownership and not have to come up with a big, huge small-business loan or bank loan, which again, is very difficult for a lot of people to do.”
Sobocinski will retain Soby’s and likely the catering operations as those two entities are intertwined, sharing kitchen space and weekend brunch duties, he says.
Recently announced at the company holiday party, the process has already begun with Passerelle Bistro’s general manager Mike Minelli buying into the restaurant with the goal of full ownership.
Jianna and Southern Pressed Juicery each opened with partners chef Michael Kramer and Olivia Esquivel, respectively, and are already structured for that process to take place eventually. Papi’s Tacos, though not part of this new plan, is also in the process of transitioning ownership to Jorge “Papi” Barrales as it was set up to do so from the beginning.
Sobocinski says this next step for the restaurant group wasn’t something he conceived early on, but rather a thought process born out of necessity in the last year or so.
“How do you divest a restaurant group with eight unique concepts? It’s not as easy, you know, as the guys who did Sticky Fingers years ago,” he says. “Ten Sticky Fingers is easier for someone to come in and run than eight different concepts. So why not try to divest and leave behind five or six next-generation owner/operators who hopefully buy into what we believe is the right hospitality approach, and they’ll continue that philosophy of taking care of employees and taking care of guests.”
Sobocinski’s goal as he gradually exits day-to-day operations of the restaurants is to continue to serve in the hospitality industry through giving more time to some opportunities with the National Restaurant Association and to the Greenville Housing Fund. He already serves on the GHF board, and providing solutions to the workforce-housing shortage near and around downtown is something he is passionate about as it greatly affects hospitality employees.
“I know it’s going to help our industry and keep our downtown growing and vibrant if we can get employees to actually live closer to work,” he says.