Credit: Baxter Miller Credit: Baxter Miller

If your Christmas wish is to have a Vivian Howard meal on your dinner table, you’re in luck: Howard has opened an outpost of “Viv’s Fridge” in Raleigh. 

The illustrious North Carolina chef and PBS star launched the concept over the summer, with prepared meals available at standalone smart fridges in Kinston (where she is based), as well as Bald Head Island and Emerald Isle. The new Raleigh fridge is located at Wine Authorities at 211 East Franklin Street; another fridge has also been placed at Galley Stores and Marina in New Bern. 

Howard says that menus for the fridge are changed up monthly, and food is restocked almost daily with “restaurant-quality entrees, snacks, sides and desserts in a convenient ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat format,” according to a press release.”Among this month’s thirteen menu offerings: Party Magnet Cheeseball ($25), Sausage Biscuits and Rosemary Gravy ($35), Tomato Soup with Mini Beer and Cheese Breadsticks ($20), and vegetarian Chocolate Candy Cane Cake ($40). 

Early on in the pandemic, Howard permanently closed her Kinston-based Oyster bar, Boiler Room; over the summer, she also closed her flagship Kinston restaurant, Chef & the Farmer. The latter closure was temporary, as Howard reworked the concept, but to date, the restaurant hasn’t reopened. 

Over the phone, though, Howard—who was driving through rural Eastern North Carolina and navigating patchy cell phone service—explained that even before the pandemic, she was reconsidering the sustainability of restaurant operations. 

“It’s very, very hard to make money,” Howard says. “The model doesn’t work. We have this very highly specialized equipment in terms of our kitchens, very specialized skill in terms of our chefs. How can we make better use of our kitchens and make better use of our reputations as people that have earned them?”

The trend of buying prepared restaurant-grade food has seen an uptick, in recent years—think Blue Apron or, more locally, Matt Northrup’s Durham business Redstart Foods—but Howard says she’s the first to crack the smart fridge concept, which doesn’t require a vendor or house-to-house delivery person.

And while she hopes to bring Viv’s Fridges to more North Carolina cities, she’s thinking beyond that: Howard told the INDY that she hopes to sell the idea and technology to other restaurants, especially ones headed by well-known chefs. 

“Take Mateo or Crawford and Son: If they had three fridges that each had, like, $4,000 worth of inventory, that’s two nights of service for a restaurant like that,” she says. “So that would, one, get you line cooks and chefs that don’t want to work at night any more daytime hours, which would allow you to keep a lot of the talent that we’re constantly losing in our kitchens because people don’t want to work at night. It would allow you to earn revenue without expanding your footprint and without really taking on much overhead.” 

Howard will be posted up at Wine Authorities this Wednesday, December 21, from 4-6 p.m., offering samples from Viv’s Fridge. 

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct address for Raleigh’s Wine Authorities. 

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