WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A farm-to-table restaurant in Burgaw is now off the table.
Karoline Schwartz, the chef who won Burgaw’s first Own Your Own Restaurant Competition, has announced she will not open her “community-focused, locally-sourced” restaurant in Burgaw.
The Own Your Own Restaurant Competition started in the fall of 2023, with 500 contestants from 29 states competing to win space and $1 million to open a restaurant in downtown Burgaw. It narrowed down from there, with Schwartz from Tabernash, Colorado, taking the top prize.
Own Your Own announced the end of their partnership with Schwartz in a post on Instagram on Wednesday. Entrepreneur and founder of the competition Richard Johnson said he’s not sure what went wrong, but noticed a drop in communication on Schwartz’s end after she won.
“Somewhere along the way, we weren’t having as much communication. We needed to get started. We needed to design it,” Johnson said. “I had already hired the architects and the builders and the designers and so there was just, you know, maybe a missing link or a gap.”
Schwartz told WECT over text message that the lack of communication was because she was evaluating the terms of the deal.
“At the time we were to discuss design plans, I was simultaneously asking Richard and his team follow-up questions regarding the details of the competition winnings,” Schwartz wrote. “I wasn’t comfortable investing time or effort into the project until I knew what the partnership entailed beyond a ‘handshake agreement.’”
Schwartz said she didn’t realize all the terms of the agreement until after she won.
“It was well-advertised (even in the name of the competition) as an opportunity to own your own restaurant and win $1 million to open it,” Schwartz wrote. “The only details provided were that should one of us win, they would get the opportunity to enter into a ‘business relationship’ with the OYO company, but no details as to what that involved. Once I learned that I would have no ownership over my intellectual property or equity in the business, I realized I misunderstood the way the competition was advertised.”
Johnson said he felt that the deal was explained fully to each candidate before they moved forward in the competition.
“We kind of had a meeting with her four months before the competition and we spelled out here’s what you get,” Johnson said. “I knew there was a risk. I sat there. I talked to each one. They looked me in the eye and I believed her.”
The competition also required that the winner move close to the restaurant so they could operate it. Schwartz said this requirement did not have anything to do with her decision.
“I was very happy to move to Burgaw. The community is incredibly hospitable and I am comfortable with the small-town vibe,” Schwartz wrote. “Burgaw is a beautiful town with beautiful people and it’s unfortunate the opportunity isn’t right for me and my business!”
Johnson said the restaurant space will be given to two other contestants who have teamed up on a restaurant concept. He expects the restaurant will open in May or June of 2025. An announcement about that new space and who those contestants are will be released in mid-March, per Own Your Own’s team. Johnson is also working with another chef on bringing a deli to the town.
“We are revitalizing Burgaw and it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Johnson said. “A rising tide floats many boats.”
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