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    The Porch — wellness




    I first met Daniel in the fall of 2015 while walking through my neighborhood, on Person Street. He wasn’t yet a familiar face (at least to me) on the block, but something told me that the guy carrying loads of fresh produce into the newly opened The Pharmacy Café (TPC) was going to be a great addition to the neighborhood. Founded in 1910, Person Street Pharmacy & Café has been a landmark in Raleigh for as long as anyone living can remember. Known for its staples like the 10-cent popcorn machine and full service soda fountain, this was more than a pharmacy, it was a place of congregation. Since the beginning, the pharmacy consistently provided a sense of community for its family of customers. But like anything, change is inevitable. People move on, the neighborhood landscape shifts, and a new generation comes in to carry the torch. Daniel Whittaker, owner of TPC is now holding the torch with a strict understanding of the past and a bright vision for the future. We sat down with him for our latest installment of Raleigh Hustles Hard, to find out more about how The Pharmacy Café became home.

    Daniel took over TPC in November of 2015. As a self-proclaimed “Navy brat”, he spent most of his childhood moving around without a real sense of community. He moved to North Carolina in the early 2000’s working for a while as a franchise developer for Rum Runners as well as at a series of restaurant jobs. As random as Daniel makes these jobs seem, I quickly understood their value in leading up to the present. As well as the owner of TPC, Daniel sits at the helm of Green Planet Catering, an award winning, sustainably run catering company he founded in 2007.

    The Pharmacy Café reopened in June of 2015, under pharmacist and new owner, Trey Waters. Partnering with Chef Chad McIntyre from Market Restaurant, the new café promised to fill a much-needed void in the neighborhood, breakfast and lunch fare. Unfortunately, an unclear vision and lack of execution caused almost immediate problems for the café. Trey approached his friend Daniel to quickly come in and right the ship.

    After a venture designing the Market Restaurant (now Standard Foods) didn’t materialize, Daniel was left waiting for his opening. TPC was just the opportunity. “The community wasn’t perceiving a problem yet, but they weren’t enticed or super stoked to come over. We wanted to change that with a little bit of marketing and a great menu.” Daniel’s first move was bringing in Patrick Cowden, who he first met working at Michael Jordan’s restaurant in Chapel Hill nearly fourteen years ago. “I flew in chefs from all over the country, but always knew the right choice was just a few miles away. Everyone who worked in the kitchen under Patrick went on to be a head chef, private chef, or head of hospitality. He is an educator as much as an amazing chef. The fact that he holds an accounting degree doesn’t hurt either.” At the same time, Daniel was also looking for a full-time executive chef for Green Planet Catering, so the timing and opportunity proved serendipitous.

    After a complete overhaul to the menu and a re-imagining of the space, the café was quickly off and running. Daniel brought in a community table, new signage, and tabletop toys for the family. “We paid attention to our customers on what they would like to see, what was missing, and what we could do better.” With healthy and substantial breakfast offerings like “Pedro”, the Café Burrito and an assortment of fresh breads, jellies, and jams (made in house!), TPC became a neighborhood staple virtually overnight. Undeniably, the key to the café is the lunch specials. Every single day, that small chalkboard next to the register is displaying some uniquely and newly crafted creation. In over a year, I’ve literally never been disappointed!

    As a small business owner, Daniel views himself as much a facilitator as anything else. “I’m passionate about providing jobs for excellent people. People who are better than me.” Daniel, who is constantly looking for his next project, is a firm believer in “manager-managed” companies. “I always have the intention of putting stronger people than me in leadership positions so I can step back. That doesn’t always work out, but we have very little turnover.” Instead of employing an ever-shifting number of part-time restaurant workers, Daniel empowers his small staff by providing full time dedicated positions as well as the opportunity for additional hours at Green Planet Catering. With much of the staff splitting time, and the repurposing of excess ingredients, both GPC and TPC are able to run with very minimal waste and overhead.

    For Daniel, it all comes back to sustainability. “Everything is composted or recycled. No plastics except for food wrap. We are completely committed to waste reducing programs.” In 2007, he started farming with NC State Agriculture education farm, producing primarily for GPC. “For nearly 7-years, we had a private partnership with the NCSU agriculture school. We had a 6-acre spot near Yates Mill Pond where I spent 40 hours a week farming for GPC. At the same time, we developed a partnership with Pete Pagano of Tir Na Nog, running GPC from their kitchens.” Daniel and his team even began using the fryer oil from Tir Na Nog to make bio-fuel for GPC trucks. Between sustainably growing and harvesting their own produce and converting spent oils in bio-fuel, GPC began to win awards for sustainability. Today, the 65-person staff works out of a large production facility in Cary, providing everyday drop offs, boxed lunches, and hot buffets for corporate clients.

    Currently, Daniel isn’t doing much farming, except for at home, where he grows and supplies most of the fresh herbs for GPC and TPC. I learned pretty quickly that a few things are very important to him. Community empowerment, sustainability, adventure, and reflection seem to guide his path. “I need a place to ponder. I make better decisions on a surfboard on the water than I do behind the counter.” He’s known to peel off for Wrightsville at a moments notice to surf but you can typically catch him around downtown on his one-wheel. Daniel, who loves going back country camping stepped off the Appalachian Trail in June after hiking 100 miles. He’s worked out at Crossfit Invoke for the last 11 years and fought MMA for seven. “I injure myself a lot, because activities requiring a lot of intensity help me. I have to be so focused on maintaining myself that it really allows me to clear my head.”

    On the question of Hustle, Talent, or Luck, Daniel immediately interrupted me with, “Hustle”. “There are talented and lucky people all over place, but less people willing to put their head down and put in what it takes to be an entrepreneur." Besides hustle, Daniel gives due credit to the City of Oaks. “I have really strong feelings about Raleigh. That’s why I’m here. It’s the best place to run a business. As a water and adventure enthusiast, Raleigh doesn’t make much sense but damn what a vibe, what a buzz.” Like most business owners in Raleigh, Daniel has benefited greatly from the depth of staffing because of the quality of higher education in the area. “In today’s market, it can be hard for young people to get a job, so I have a lot of talented, educated people to reach out to for these projects. As a navy brat I’ve never had a sense of community. Now in this neighborhood I have a stage. Not to preach, but to listen and interact with everybody. I’ve never been anywhere this long. It feels really cool.”

    Learn more about The Pharmacy Café and Green Planet Catering as well as a few of Daniel’s favorite small businesses in the area below:

    For Private Events or Catering: 919-977-3405

    For Careers at TPC or Green Planet Catering:

    Check out the TPC Breakfast / Lunch Menu HERE


    We were introduced to Joseph “JoJo” Polk through his wife, Shirley, owner of Studio Cicada, located in Glenwood South’s Carter Building. JoJo, co-owner of CORE Fitness Studios, is the epitome of “Hustle Hard”. Through research, we knew that JoJo was a former arena football player who suffered a horrific neck injury leaving him paralyzed. We also knew that through determination, intensity, and guts, he fought back from paralysis to not only walk again, but to play football at an even higher level. We sat down with this former football player turned small business owner, fitness guru, and motivational speaker, to get the full story in our newest edition of Raleigh Hustles Hard.

    Coming out of college in 2000, JoJo was a D2 All-America defensive back at Northeastern State in Oklahoma. After being undrafted, JoJo was lucky enough to pursue his lifelong dream of playing professional football with the Tulsa Talons. During his rookie season, he had seven picks in six games and started getting a bit of attention from the NFL. Towards the end of the season, he got a call from the Kansas City Chiefs and was invited to fly out for camp one week later. JoJo tells me, “It’s all I could think about. I had already told my mom that I got picked up. But, we had a game the Friday before, that would determine whether or not we got into the playoffs, and I always put team first, so I saw it as a win-win.” Instead of skipping the game and resting for camp, JoJo suited up. On the third play, he tripped over a fallen receiver, slamming into a padded wall and breaking his C-6 vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. “I’ve always been a positive person, but when it happened I cried like a baby. I went from an athlete able to do all these things to being able to do nothing.” But by the second night in the hospital, JoJo knew he had to be strong for his mother, which pushed him to a positive place. “I started thinking about the Special Olympics and all the other opportunities I might have, just to try and make the best of it.” JoJo says it showed him his true heart. “I had to dig deep within myself to get through this.” It also showed him the good in people, which helped during his struggle. He credits prayer and support as being the keys to his recovery, but internally he had to possess a constant focus to remain motivated.

    JoJo created a mantra; taken in part from a former coach who always yelled, “Dig!” “It really motivated me but I had to figure out how to make it my own, so I came up with Determination, Intensity, Guts. That really embodied what I was going through at the time.” JoJo told me, almost tearing up, that there were days where he wanted to quit. He didn’t think he could work toward recovery anymore – it was just too hard. DIG kept him going. “No matter what you want to do in life you have to have the determination to start and the intensity to hustle hard. But the key, are guts. It’s going to get hard, there’s going to be times where you don’t want to do it anymore but are you going to have the guts to push through it?” Today, he carries that message to every person who walks through the door at CORE. JoJo experienced what some call, a “medical miracle”. After three months, he was walking and eventually made a full recovery. He returned to arena football a year later where he won the 2001 Most Inspirational Player and went on to win Two AIFA Championships during his eight seasons. JoJo retired from football in 2009 and relocated to Raleigh where he began working as a trainer at Seaboard Fitness & Wellness (later O2 Fitness). JoJo trained at HEAT briefly, but in late 2014, was offered co-ownership in CORE Fitness Studios. He jumped at the opportunity. “That was almost a no brainer. I’ve always wanted to own my own gym; this is a good place with good people so I knew I had to do it.”

    His priority when arriving at CORE was to build a great team of individuals that provide a unique dynamic and a variety of training abilities. Today, all nine trainers share the same passion and enthusiasm for wellness and community engagement. “We want people who are interested in more than just our gym, but helping to change Raleigh as a whole.” As a fitness nut, JoJo sees his current situation as a bonus. “Once I get done with all the administrative work of being an owner, I get to go teach classes which is just fun!” With ownership come responsibility, but also the opportunity to influence decisions. “I had all these ideas as a trainer but wasn’t in a decision making position. It’s almost surreal that I’ll think of something and remember I can actually do it now.” He’s quick to praise his partners, Katherine and Rand Williams for giving him the opportunity to play this larger role at CORE. In turn, he and Katherine keep all the trainers heavily involved in decision-making. CORE offers quality workouts and the staff have a vision to get their clients starting to think about eating healthy. They partner with Nutrition Partners to provide meal plans and advice to clients, as needed. JoJo hopes to improve personally in this area. “As a trainer you can always get better and grow, and nutrition is somewhere that I would like to expand my horizons.” His ultimate mission at CORE is to build an environment that motivates people and creates a feeling of family and community. “It’s about caring about the individual, not just their workout.” JoJo says emphatically.

    When he’s not at CORE, you can find JoJo planning or emceeing at The Big Muddy Challenge, a family oriented fitness challenge he co-created in 2013. “We saw all these tough mudder competitions that looked fun but required you getting a babysitter. We wanted to create an experience for the whole family.” The challenge, which takes place six to seven times a year at Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville, NC, is branching out with an event this year in Richmond, VA and in Washington, DC in 2016. JoJo hopes to find additional time for more motivational speaking and delivering the DIG message. In the near future, he would like to branch out and begin speaking not only to schools, but camps, businesses and other organizations. “If it weren’t for certain people in my life along the way, I wouldn’t be the man I am today so I feel like if I can pass that along to at least one of those kids, then it’s worth it.”

    Learn more about JoJo Polk, CORE and a few of JoJo’s favorite small businesses in the area below:


    Studio Cicada


    Kenda Kist

    Jakob Foto


    Thanks for stopping by the porch,

    Porch Fly Clothing