His Restaurant, Regardless
Lee Robinson ’97 didn’t let initial misgivings stop him from becoming new owner of Raleigh’s Irregardless Café.
By David Menconi
Early on as a student at NC State, Lee Robinson ’97 refused to go to the Irregardless Café because of its name — which wasn’t a word in the dictionary and therefore offended the English major in him. But once he started going to Raleigh’s first vegetarian restaurant, he found a lot he liked about the food and overall vibe, enough to eventually buy it in 2020.
“And lo and behold,” Robinson says, “the year I got it was the year it became a word in the dictionary. Destiny, bro!”
Robinson bought Irregardless from Arthur and Anya Gordon, the original owners who founded it in 1975 on Morgan Street, a spot familiar to many NC State alumni. Robinson was a veteran of the local restaurant scene, having worked his way through NC State “at almost every place up and down Hillsborough Street.”
One of those restaurants was the Player’s Retreat, where Robinson was manager, followed by a stint managing The Pit barbecue restaurant before acquiring Irregardless right before the pandemic shutdown. Or as he says, he went from restaurants doing whole hogs to burgers to vegetarian — “and somehow gained weight.”
Robinson also co-owns another Raleigh restaurant, Brookside Bodega, but Irregardless remains his primary focus. He changed it “as little as possible” beyond brightening the furnishings and tweaking the menu. Its weekend brunch remains a popular local institution for generations of Robinson’s fellow NC State partisans, and the response has been gratifying. He hopes that helps Irregardless weather a challenging stretch after Goodnight’s Comedy Club next door closed in the fall of 2022 to make way for a large retail/apartment building.
I can’t wait until we have 400 apartment units next door. If we can get one-third of them coming in once a month, I’ll be happy.
“It’s gonna be a long two years and that was our parking lot,” says Robinson. “But I have more hope than trepidation. We’ve not seen a dip yet. I can’t wait until we have 400 apartment units next door. If we can get one-third of them coming in once a month, I’ll be happy.”