When Ricky discovered the restaurant ’ s original location in downtown Durham , he acted on instinct once again . “ I knew that was it ,” he recalls . His vision for a one-ingredient concept came to life as Saltbox Seafood Joint .
“ I had been an executive chef all over the world , and Saltbox became my apprenticeship to entrepreneurship ,” he says .
Ricky proudly wears many hats . He financed the business himself , ran the marketing strategy to get his restaurant off the ground and designed the logo — all while serving as chef and owner .
“ Anywhere you go and wherever you are , you seek out restaurants and coffee shops ,” he says . “ Restaurants are the thread of the community . Everyone you know who grew up in small-town America — everyone — will reference where they used to eat .”
If food is essential to community , then the local community is certainly better because of Ricky ’ s influence . And that influence , along with his culinary prowess , earned Ricky the prestigious 2022 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast .
“ My body stayed in place and my spirit moved up to the stage . My body had to catch up with me ,” he says of the experience of hearing his name called at the ceremony . “ It was just a wonderful feeling to be recognized by folks who have witnessed your work .”
Like the influence of his childhood friend , Ricky is quick to acknowledge the people who have been by his side along his journey as chef .
“ I made sure to shout-out my family — my amazing wife and my kids — and my restaurant family ,” he says . “ It was so important to shout-out my employees . Here I was winning an award while they were back home working . I also wanted to shout-out the fact that they are all women . I want people to know that this restaurant business is hard work , and I want people to know who ’ s running the show — it ’ s women .”
And while Ricky grew up on barbecue like so many North Carolinians , he ’ s excited for the state ’ s food scene to be recognized for more than that .
“ People know food , and we all appreciate goodness ,” he says . “ Let ’ s celebrate what ’ s here .”
– Meredith Martindale , editor