Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken founder Tom Ferguson has died. A spokesperson for the company confirmed that he passed away on Thursday, February 17. 

Ferguson was 57. The cause of death was not disclosed. 

Ferguson opened the flagship location of Rise Biscuits at Southpoint Mall in 2012. Since then, the fast-casual biscuit outpost has done just what its founder set out for it to do: Rise, expanding to dozens of locations across the Triangle.

Prior to starting Rise, Ferguson cooked in famous Triangle kitchens including that of Scott Howell’s Nana’s and Ben and Karen Barker’s Magnolia Grill, and founded Triangle restaurant ventures like Only Burger and Durham Catering Co. 

“We are terribly saddened by the passing of Rise Southern Biscuits & Righteous Chicken Founder and CEO Tom Ferguson, Jr,” the company said in a statement shared with the INDY. “Tom was a fearless visionary, a leader, a mentor, and a devoted husband and father. The Rise franchise owners, employees, and the people Tom worked with over the years all mourn his loss.”

In high school, Ferguson had dyslexia and struggled with schoolwork. Cooking became his driving passion. 

“I believe that being dyslexic makes you learn stuff differently and approach stuff differently. It makes me want to connect the lines between people and what they’re doing—make it easier, break it down, just get to the point,” Ferguson told the INDY in 2016. “If there’s an issue, I don’t want to just fix the issue. I want to go back and fix the problem.”

This drive led Ferguson to have success with the company, expanding the perennial Triangle favorite into a successful national franchise. There are now eight locations in North Carolina (a ninth, in Chapel Hill, has a planned opening date this spring) and nine others across the country, with locations as sprawling as California, Oklahoma, and Maryland. 

“We will miss his unbridled enthusiasm, his positivity, his passionate pursuit of life, and his ability to connect, relate to, and encourage people to believe in themselves,” the company statement continued. “Tom’s vision gives us a clear working path for the future of Rise.”

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