FUQUAY-VARINA — At first glance, The Meeting Corner looks like any other antique shop.
But inside are stalls filled with locally made goods such as glass lamps, rosaries, journals, corn hole bags and soy candles.
And beyond the store lies an unexpected surprise: a Puerto Rican restaurant.
Spanish music wafts from the kitchen as patrons scarf down rice, beans, tostones and pastelon at the eatery’s few tables.
It might sound like a strange business combination, but owners Jacquelina Marks and Edna Morales wanted to embrace their passions. Marks is an artist, and Morales loves to cook.
They met at church, became fast friends and decided nine months ago to start a business together.
At the time, Marks was a stay-at-home mom whose youngest child was getting ready to start school. Morales was running a home-cooked meal pickup and delivery business out of her Holly Springs home.
“I was walking and saw an empty store front on Main Street. I called Edna and said, ‘It has a kitchen.’ And she said, ‘Let’s do it,” recalled Marks, who lives in Fuquay-Varina.
When The Meeting Corner opened in November, about six artists rented space in the shop. Now, about 15 artists show their work there, and Marks plans to add two more.
The business gets a portion of artists’ sales.
Marks also sells antique furniture, along with handmade pincushions and reproductions of 18th-century Queen Anne dolls.
“I want artists to be valued here,” she said. “To be here, it has to be antique or handmade.”
All of the artists live in the Triangle; Tonya Cassone lives in Fuquay-Varina. Her business, Sweet Mia Boutique, got its start in 2010 on the website Etsy.
Cassone now sells children’s clothing, hair accessories, bags and embroidered and monogrammed items.
Tammie Wallace sells upcylced bottle art at The Meeting Corner. She makes clocks, lamps and bird feeders out of old wine and liquor bottles.
She also makes stained glass panes, sun catchers and jewelry that has multi-colored glass.
‘Latin Cracker Barrel’
The eatery at The Meeting Corner is one of only a few Puerto Rican restaurants in the Triangle.
Morales started out with a staff of one – herself. Now four people serve customers.
“We’re the Latino Cracker Barrel,” joked Marks, who was born in Argentina. “You can do your shopping and then eat.”
The two-businesses-in-one model helps lure customers, according to the owners.
“We help each other a lot,” Marks said. “There are days when she’s busy and I’m not, but it brings people in. Or people come in to browse and say, ‘I didn’t know there was a restaurant here.’ ”
Morales serves lunch and stays open late on Fridays for dinner. The menu changes weekly and offers vegetarian options.
Marks and Morales pair up for monthly Paint & Dine events, where customers get a three-course meal and a painting class.
Morales hosts cooking classes, and artists in the shop also present classes.
Good food and family
Rick Kelly-Crapse discovered the restaurant about three months ago by accident. He came to browse the crafts and saw people walking to the back of the store and leaving with cups of coffee.
After he tried the coffee, he got hooked. He’s come back to try the Cuban and tripleta sandwiches, made of steak, ham, cheese, onions, tomato and pork.
“It’s impressed me,” Kelly-Crapse said. “They have a different atmosphere than the chains. It’s more gourmet than fast food.”
Kelly Harrell of Fuquay-Varina said she appreciates the gluten-free options.
“She comes out and explains what’s safe,” Harrell said of Morales. “I can’t explain the whole menu, but what I’ve have had has been wonderful and flavorful. It’s so good.”
Morales said she wants to make good food and create a family atmosphere.
“If it’s gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian, I’m open to it,” Morales said. “Now I see a steady group of people for lunch, and I can say I have regulars. It’s like a family. It’s like you’re coming into my home and I’m cooking for you.”