Smarty Mom/Dad Saturdays are some of my favorites – ESPECIALLY when I get to highlight a longtime friend. This is one of those weird time-warp things – ya know, when you get to highlight an awesome dad who just so happened to sit in front of you in Algebra nearly 20 years ago? That’s one of my fave parts of living in my hometown – seeing firsthand the amazing people my high school classmates have become.
Shawn Wilfong is the husband to Shelley (beautiful, creative, super nice, and a great mom – basically, the whole package), father to three boys, and the managing member of an investment partnership that owns three popular Charlotte restaurants: Leroy Fox in Cotswold, Mortimer’s Cafe & Pub in EpiCentre, and Cowbell Burger & Bar on N. Tryon. All three restaurants are Smarty family favorites – if you haven’t been to one or all three, put them on your list pronto.
He’s from a large family who (fun fact here) all happened to have the same initials: SMW. (Shawn divulges more about this in our interview, but props to his mom and dad – I can’t imagine coming up with all of those same-initial names.) He and Shelley are taking Charlotte by storm – I do believe this is just their beginning. They are set to do great things here in the QC. He’s outgoing, fun, sharp, and can rock a man’s Lululemon outfit like nobody’s business.
Meet your Smarty Dad for this week, Shawn Wilfong!
Shawn Wilfong, Smarty Dad
Married to: Shelley Ann Miracle for 9 years
Children: Carter, 7; Landen, 5; Blake, 3
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
Years in Charlotte: 30
‘Hood: Myers Park
Alma Mater: Matthews Elementary, St. Gabriel’s, Charlotte Catholic, & NC State
What got you into the restaurant business? These restaurants are the culmination of a great partnership. We have a lot of people who lend their respective expertise to making each store special. For me specifically, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Robinson, got me started. Her husband, along with his brother, owned Charlie’s Restaurant in SouthPark mall. She told me if I ever wanted a job to call him. I did, and they hired me as a dishwasher. First shift started at 6:30am Sunday morning, and I had the pleasure of pulling all the kitchen mats into the Dillard’s parking lot to hose them down. I will never forget the material attached to my fingers from that duty. I worked there until I graduated from college learning all aspects of the business. They are honest hard working people whom I admire very much. I ended up working almost every position in my lengthy tenure, and with no specific objective, I obtained a great knowledge base about how operations should work. They still own and operate Trio’s on Highway 51, and they employed a lot of high school kids. They taught us a lot about accountability and work ethic.
You and your wife, Shelley, really seem like a team when it comes to opening new restaurants. How do you play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses? Shelley was very involved on the first store. Then the babies started to magically appear. The daunting task of raising kids with manners started to take control and now she helps when she can. With real estate slowing down coupled with the crashing economy I decided to focus on the day to day operations for our partnership. Shelley is very creative, and I am not (majored in Accounting in college if that can sum it up). We naturally stick to skills where we have a natural advantage, and it seems to work perfectly.
How do you juggle a family of three active boys and a busy career in a crazy industry? Lots of Starbucks. I actually have an addiction that is somewhat unhealthy.
We’re OBSESSED with Leroy Fox’s hot pretzels (addicted is probably the better word). What’s your favorite thing on each restaurant’s menu? I can tell you after testing and tasting the same food for years it is a real testament to the product that I continue to eat at one store every day- sometimes multiple times a day. I love our bone in fried chicken but I think our shrimp and grits are almost as good as Magnolias (I know that’s a bold statement. I concede theirs are better but ours a pretty great second place in my mind.).
Where do you see your career in 10 years? We run an investment partnership called the Snowball Fund. It is as important as the operating companies. We are students of the markets and there is no telling where we will end up. As our experience grows, our decisions on where we choose to set sail will likely change as well.
Any other new restaurants on the horizon that Smarties should be the first to know about? We have targeted some areas where we would love to be part of the community, but we are very methodical in our growth. We are a service company and are only as good as our depth in great employees. Our mission is the “Bring people together to celebrate life” and if we focus on that each and every day, I believe the growth will take care of itself. I think we have some of the most dedicated service professionals in the business and so long as they want opportunity we will surely do our best to provide it.
Now for the fun stuff to get to know you a little better:
You named your first son Carter. How hard (or easy) was it to not keep the “S” thing going another generation (I mean, you did marry an “S”!)? Dark secret from a weird 1970’s idea: it is true that my parents decided to name all of their kids with the same initials (we are Shawn Michael, Stephen Matthew, Seth Martyn, Shannon Marie, & Stephanie Michelle). I actually have other friends, the Cherrys, who did the same thing (Trent ,Trigg, Trevor, Trip, & Tracy), so my parents aren’t totally alone in this idea. I met my wife in college, Shelley Ann Miracle and never thought much about it. When we betrothed, it became obvious that she was going to continue this sick trend, becoming Shelley Miracle Wilfong. With my wife in the SMW camp that was all it took to end that tomfoolery. I will admit I hated it growing up, but when Shelley was such a perfect match I did make an effort to assuage her into keeping up the tradition. I clearly have very little decision making authority in this family. I am still holding out for a daughter, I am relentless. I feel I am losing (or have lost) that battle, but I am not one to fail.
Other than your own, what are some of your family’s favorite restaurants around town? Who doesn’t love Cowfish…we enjoy Stagioni’s and all of Bruce’s establishments and Trio. I love Bedder Bedder & More & Carolina Soda Shoppe – been going to both of those for a very long time.
Do you like to cook? If so, what’s your favorite dish to whip up? We have restaurants so our kids won’t starve. Shelley does not enjoy cooking and working all day in a restaurant does not leave you wanting to cook or more specifically clean dishes when you get home. Maybe if we were in some other profession cooking could be a more enjoyable task- although my partner Brandon Viebrock is an amazing cook and he has no problem cooking for anyone at anytime- but he has no children so maybe that is my excuse!
Fave professional sport team? I am not a great spectator of sports, more of a participant type. Lately I would have to say my peers at Ultimate Crossfit- I feel like that is a sport – or a cult. Either way, I am drinking that Kool-Aid.
You come from a big family – one of five kids – and you all are successful, independent adults (something parents today can only ultimately hope for :-)). What do you think was your parents’ secret? Success is a relative term and is only measurable by ones value system. My parents were always very supportive and instilled in all of us a belief we could do anything. My mother may have outworked most people on the planet. I think letting your kids know you believe in them and always being there to support and love them is the start to a great recipe for ensuring future success – however an individual decides to measure that.
What do you and your siblings like to do when you all get together? We love to get the cousins together and usually cookout. We have taken up music in a big way and there is usually some jam sessions that takes place. Shelley may kill me but we have acquired more instruments than you can find at Sam Ashe- we can’t really play them well but we can make a hell of a racket over here. We are still in the noise category but trending towards music.
Last book read? In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes our Lives.
Person you look up to the most? I really want to be a less curmudgeon version of Charlie Munger.
What’s one thing you hope your boys learn from you? Honesty, integrity, faith and good old-fashioned hard work. That’s not one thing- one phrase work?
What’s one thing you hope they don’t learn from you? Never do gymnastics.
Thing you could not live without? Involuntary bodily functions.
Guess what, Smarties? We have a LEROY FOX Smarty Steal!
For the month of February: Mention CSP and receive one complimentary kids meal with the purchase of two adult entrees at Leroy Fox. Present this coupon to your server. Cannot be combined with any other offer.