Granados: Restaurateur McGovern has learned from the best

May 3, 2014 

Julia McGovern has always been in the restaurant business. But like me, she wanted to go into communications. That was her major when she attend North Carolina State University in 1992.

“I worked at the radio station there and just had an awesome experience,” she said.

But the call of the restaurant was too much. It was a call that ultimately led her to open her own restaurant, Poppyseed Market on Lead Mine Road in North Raleigh in 2006.

But her path was a winding one. She was a cook and spent many years working at the Angus Barn, a restaurant she credits with giving her some of her best experience.

“The Angus Barn is the end all be all if you want to have a restaurant,” she said, adding that the staff there “were such good teachers.”

She credits the steakhouse with teaching her the key to owning a good restaurant: customer service.

She worked at Angus Barn while attending the culinary program at Wake Technical Community College in 1999. Her time there was well spent, and provided a foundation of what was to come.

“They are absolutely spot-on with their education,” she said. “It’s very traditional. Very classic.”

But when she finished in 2002, she wasn’t quite ready to go her own way. She kept working at the Angus Barn until fate stepped in.

One day, she stumbled upon a little sandwich shop on Lead Mine Road. She thought it would make a nice part-time job, so she stopped in to inquire. But they weren’t hiring, and before too long they went out of business.

She kept her eye on the spot, wondering if it was time to make her move.

Some time went by. Another business moved in, but then in 2006, the property became available again. She saw her moment.

“I met with the landlord and said, ‘This is my dream.’” she said.

She signed a lease and said everything fell into place. Poppyseed Market opened as a deli, serving lunch, but within six months, they had so much business they needed to expand.

Fortunately, the space next door came open, so they popped a hole in the wall and added more tables.

In a short period of time they went from a six-table restaurant to having about 50 tables.

“We stayed like that a couple of years, but we kept growing,” she said.

About two and half years after opening, a third space came available, and the market grew again. Around the same time, patrons were clamoring for a dinner menu.

“We decided, let’s just go ahead and stay open for dinner,” McGovern said.

The current incarnation of Poppyseed Market was born.

Go in for lunch, and it’s more of a typical deli shop. Go up, place your order, take a number, and someone will bring you your food.

But at 5, everything changes. Waiters come in, the good silverware and fine linens come out, and a full menu is offered.

The restaurant is doing well, McGovern said, which is particularly impressive given the fact that they don’t advertise.

“If you can rely on word of mouth, that’s the best way to go,” she said, crediting Angus Barn with teaching her the technique.

When I asked her what separates her restaurant from others, she mentioned things like their dedication to locally sourced ingredients. But she emphasized that it’s customer service — the priority she learned all that time ago at Angus Barn — where they really excel.

“We make everything from scratch,” she said. “We love what we do. But the customer service part is what shines through.”

Alex Granados writes about interesting people, places and traditions in North Raleigh. Contact him via email at

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