Published: Feb 26, 2013 06:00 PM
Modified: Feb 25, 2013 12:30 PM
APEX - When he was 14, David Vance got a job as a dishwasher at a hotel in Huntington, W.Va. And just like that, he was hooked on the food industry.
Thirty-eight years later, after he has worked as a line cook, executive chef and food-sales representative, Vance owns his own restaurant.
Vance, 52, and his wife Chandra opened the Rock Harbor Grill in downtown Apex last month.
The spot at 121 N. Salem St. has been a revolving door of restaurants over the past 10 years. Most recently, it was Orobosa’s Hideaway. But the Vances, who live in Fuquay-Varina, say they are here to stay.
“This place has never had an identity,” Vance said. “It’s always felt like the red-headed stepchild of the downtown. The residents of Apex who come in here tell us they want it to be consistent.”
Rock Harbor Grill features a classic rock-inspired décor. Black and white photographs of musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kid Rock decorate the walls. Upstairs, there’s a rock lounge, wine bar and real guitars.
Throughout the restaurant, classic rock croons from the sound system.
The vegetarian influence on the menu comes from Chandra Vance, who doesn’t eat anything that once breathed. It was a challenge, considering her husband wanted to open a seafood restaurant featuring salmon, prawns and mahi.
The menu has lunch and dinner items ranging from appetizers to entrees that are either vegetarian or can be made vegetarian.
Chandra Vance’s favorite is the Rock Harbor crepes, which are filled with finely chopped wild mushrooms over jasmine rice with scallions and a roasted garlic tomato sauce.
But meat lovers aren’t forgotten. The Rock Harbor Grill also has beef, chicken and duck entrees.
David Vance hired executive chef James Lee to run the kitchen, but at least two of the items on the menu are his own recipes: the smoked-salmon appetizer and shrimp and corn chowder.
He leaves the rest to Lee, whom he can’t help but gush over.
“He just has a way of putting a dish together that makes it art,” Vance said. “They just look so good on the plate that you want to try it. He brings that eye appeal to dishes.”
David Vance chokes up and gets teary-eyed as he talks about opening his own restaurant. In his last job, he worked as an area sales rep for distributor Sysco. Now he’s host and general manager at Rock Harbor Grill, while his wife maintains the books.
“When the place was finished, I walked outside and I took a picture, and I walked inside and became a blubbering idiot,” Vance said.
Chandra Vance couldn’t be prouder of helping her husband realize his dream.
“I know this is something he’s wanted to do for a long-time,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun. The opportunity was perfect, the timing was perfect. And the people of Apex have really embraced us.”
David Vance is already thinking beyond Apex: “My long-term goal is to make the Rock Harbor Grill the next big thing,” he said. “Our goal is to franchise all along the Southeast from Virginia to Florida.”