It’s game time at Hickory Tavern, and amid the clamor of Tar Heel fans cheering and clapping for their favorite team, Brent Wall makes his way around the restaurant fist pumping and hugging patrons.
But Wall isn’t just another fan — he’s the general manager, and few patrons visit the Carrboro restaurant without getting to know him.
“If you haven’t met him, go meet him. He’ll be your best friend in no time,” said Thom Perez, a spokesman for the Hickory Tavern network of 16 restaurants.
Hickory Tavern’s newest location debuted in January, and it’s the most recent restaurant to open in the 300 East Main development in Carrboro.
As the game nears its end, no guest leaves without a personal thank you, high five or hug from their new found friend.
“Pleasing people is intrinsically satisfying,” Wall said. “Making other people happy makes me happy.”
Wall is also a former member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and a UNC alumnus who graduated in 2003 with a degree in political science. As a law school hopeful, he never expected to find himself in the restaurant industry.
“There’s no ‘Groundhog’s Day’ in the restaurant industry,” Wall said, referencing the movie. “Every day is a challenge. Every day is a reward. Every day we miss something, but we learn from it.”
While visiting an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brother in Los Angeles the year after graduating, Wall got a job at the Beverly Hills, C.A. restaurant The Grill on the Alley.
There, Wall became familiar with many celebrities, including producer Brian Grazer, actor John Lithgow and musician Mick Jagger. Working at the restaurant also gave him the opportunity to appear in two episodes of “Entourage”, one of his favorite shows.
Wall said he remembers being asked what he wanted to do with his life by restaurant regulars George Shapiro and Howard West, producers of the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
“I think I’m doing it,” he said to them.
In 2009 Wall returned to western North Carolina, where he was raised, to be closer to his family. He applied for a manager position at the Asheville Hickory Tavern location when he heard it was opening the same year.
In planning for the opening of the Carrboro location this year, Perez said no one was more perfect for the job.
“He has a passion for the school. He’s going to be as active on campus with the business as he possibly can,” said Perez. “In addition to being a Carolina alumnus, his personality is contagious.”
Wall said his time at UNC gave him the preparation he needed to succeed in his field, including teaching him work ethic, time management and how to follow up.
But his Tar Heel past also brings him closer to the patrons and his staff, of whom many are UNC students.
“He always knows when the games are and when the big events are,” said Hannah Fussell, a server at the tavern and a UNC senior.
“He makes everyone feel like they’re family. If you come in here once and you talk to him, the next time you come in, he’s going to remember your name and he’s going to remember your story,” Fussell said.
Despite currently working 80 hour weeks, Wall said his career in the service industry has been well worth the hard work.
“I get the satisfaction of smiling faces, screams when we dunk, laughing, kids with Oreos all over their faces,” he said.
“I get the satisfaction of making people happy.”
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