Visitors to the Outer Banks have the opportunity to interface with some of what we residents refer to as “locals.” Most of the interactions are with folks in the “service industries.” Restaurants may be the most prevalent locations where those interactions take place. From servers to chefs to general managers, all play a part in determining whether our visitors have fond memories of their vacations or not.
Jackie Stepp is a homegrown treasure: daughter, sister, athlete, scholar and — by virtue of her position as GM of the Red Sky Cafe in Duck — a frontline fighter for the hearts and minds of our most valuable resource: Tourists.
To say we’re lucky to have her plying her trade back home is an understatement.
Someone who has worked for Ashley Christensen — a Raleigh restaurateur, renowned author, and international celebrity who has also won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast in 2014 and 2017 — could’ve have elected to go just about anywhere to apply her experience and thrive.
But she came home, and we’re all richer for it.
Q: If you’re not a native, what brought you to the Outer Banks?
A: Native to the core. I was born and raised on the OBX. I moved away and came back several times after high school. Most recently returning to help my dad at Red Sky and help grow our small business.
Q: How old are you?
A: 30 years young.
Q: You studied criminal justice in college. Did you get your degree?
A: I did get my bachelors degree.
Q: Your father, Wes Stepp, has been creating top-drawer meals and menus on the Outer Banks for years. Did you ever consider following in his culinary footsteps in the kitchen?
A: Absolutely. I played soccer growing up and throughout high school and college. I never expected to be scouted and asked to play in college, so prior to that I was researching culinary schools, as I loved the idea of cooking, or a job in law enforcement, hence the degree I ultimately chose.
Q: Prior to moving back to the OBX, you worked managing restaurants, in Raleigh, for the renowned chef Ashley Christensen. How did that come about?
A: I was really into working summers in the OBX and traveling in the winter. I had just come home to work after spending the winter working and playing in Aspen, Colorado, when my grandmother got very sick. So to continue with my path of traveling I decided to go to Raleigh, stay close to home, and live for a winter. Upon moving there, I applied as a server at Beasley's Chicken and Honey and Chuck's Burgers. After a month of serving tables, I was asked to apply for a position management, (by management), as they are advocates of promoting within. Five years later, I found myself back in the OBX to help out my dad at Red Sky. Because of the experience I gained and the invaluable guidanve from everyone at Ashley Christensen Restaurants, I felt I could make a difference at Red Sky.
Q: How did your dad talk you into coming back to the Banks to manage Red Sky?
A: It was a combination of things really. I wanted to stretch my wings and see if I could apply all that I had learned working for ACR to a new place. Also, my Dad had an opening for a General Manager. Not an easy decision, but I think it ultimately was the right one. Everyone at ACR supported me, and to have that feeling, leaving a company I was with for almost five years was truly amazing.
Q: When he asked you, was that a surprise?
Q: What are your main responsibilities?
A: I oversee everything. As GM, I literally do a little bit of everything. It’s easy to have passion to do it as Red Sky is in my blood.
Q: You’ve just completed the 2018 Summer Season at Red Sky. What was the most difficult part of that journey? What was the most satisfying part?
A: This is a tough question. I would have to say, ultimately, the most difficult and most satisfying is to be working with family again. It can be difficult working with people you feel comfortable with and you see everyday. On the other side of that, at the end of the day (or summer), I can’t imagine doing it without them.
Q: What advice would you give a young person when they start their careers in restaurant management? Does the advice differ based on gender?
A: Have patience with yourself. You will never know it all. You need to have an open mind and always be learning and allowing yourself to grow. In terms of gender. Throw it out the window. However, you identify, just follow your dreams. Do what you love. Took me a long time to learn to simply love myself, let alone worry about how someone saw me as a female in a management role. As with any industry today, being a woman in the workforce has its challenges, but I try to live by example and always strive to show kindness to all people.
Q: What, as GM, is your biggest fear?
A: I would sound a bit cliché if i said failing was my biggest fear, but, alas, it is. Not fear for losing my job or doing something wrong, but failing my staff or failing my guests.
Q: What, as GM, is your greatest hope?
A: That I can cultivate a welcoming culture under the roof I work. I want everyone that walks through the door to feel like they are coming back to an old friend’s house — and I mean that feeling of wanting to be here, from the employees and vendors all the way to the guests.
Q: What is the most satisfying part of your job?
A: Working with like-minded people. I love food, and I love serving food. Working with my dad brings me back to the root of where I learned hospitality, before I ever knew what it was. He is one of the most giving and creative people I know.
Q: What is the most frustrating aspect of your job?
A: Reminding myself that change doesn't happen over night. Rome wasn't built in a day right, or something like that.
Q: As an extension of the tourism industry, you’re on the front lines of selling the Outer Banks.
A: I recommend the historical activities first. The Wright Brothers Monument. Manteo, in general. The OBX is saturated with history, and I feel that growing up here we have no excuse to not be completely in love with that fact and fortunate at the same time to call it home.
Q: What do you do when you’re not working your butt off?
A: Hang out with my dog, Maggie Mae. Go to the beach. Hang on the porch and drink coffee with my pseudo-grandparents. Walk. Catch the sunrise as often as possible. Read vegan cookbooks.
Q: McCartney or Lennon?
A: Don't judge me, Scott, but I like them both! Music is an amazing release for me, as someone who is not musically inclined in anyway. I just love the escape and the feeling it provides.
Q: Will you be open year around at Red Sky?
A: Yes, Scott, we will.