Purchasing the Players' Retreat

Gus Gusler describes how he became the proprietor of Players' Retreat, a bar and restaurant on Oberlin Road, Raleigh, NC.

Interview on 2012-07-24


00:00:00.000 Well it was the bar in Raleigh. When I got here in '67
00:00:04.145 it was the first place I went and had a beer,
00:00:06.437 so it's like a legend. It's been around forever.
00:00:09.456 It's always been a very eclectic place where
00:00:12.824 you'll walk in and there'll be a plumber sitting there drinking a PBR
00:00:17.337 on Friday afternoon and at the next table the governor's sitting there
00:00:21.710 or the mayor, dressed up, eating an early dinner to go to the symphony,
00:00:25.530 and everybody gets along. It's always been like that.
00:00:28.061 But I worked there my senior year in the kitchen,
00:00:33.215 the year I was student body president, for Bernie Hanula, and Mickey, who owned the place.
00:00:36.396 It was always funny because Bernie thought it was just really cool. People would come in
00:00:42.751 and he would go drag me out of the kitchen and say, "Can you believe I got the student body president making pizzas back here?"
00:00:46.703 He just did that all the time.
00:00:49.311 But I loved Bernie and Mickey and it was just a great place.
00:00:54.002 I never thought about owning a bar
00:00:56.408 and a restaurant but the guy who bought it after him,
00:01:01.281 from him, Pete Jarrell,
00:01:04.628 Pete had never been in the hospitality business
00:01:08.762 and it was a struggle for him and it started going downhill
00:01:12.026 and a new person bought the building and tripled his rent,
00:01:17.070 and it wasn't doing very well anyway. It was in bad shape.
00:01:20.535 He called me up and said, you know I've got people who want to buy it
00:01:24.036 but they want to change the whole thing and just bastardize the name
00:01:27.582 because it's a brand. People know the Players' Retreat. I mean it's been there for sixty-one years.
00:01:31.800 He said, "I would rather close it than let that happen, but I know you love this place so much that you would make sure it stayed the PR,
00:01:38.370 so I want you to buy it." I said, "I'm not interested in buying it."
00:01:41.414 So he said, "No, you want to buy it." I said, "No. I ain't got any money and no interest." He said, "You don't know what the deal is yet." I said, "I don't care what the deal is."
00:01:47.250 Finally he tells me the deal
00:01:50.976 and I, quote, said, "Why the ____ are you doing this to me? I mean come on."
00:01:57.820 And he said, "Because I know you'll keep it," so he pretty much gave it to me.
00:02:02.610 I bought it with my heart, not my head.
00:02:09.445 I got in there and every piece of equipment in there was
00:02:14.293 old as it could be, falling apart, had been held together with baling wire.
00:02:18.195 The air conditioner in the kitchen didn't work and I didn't know it because I bought it in November when I didn't need it.
00:02:23.515 The first three years, four years, I was spending sixty, eighty hours there.
00:02:28.854 It greatly interfered with my law practice. I still was able to do it, I was just killing myself work wise.
00:02:34.660 And we've turned it around. I mean it had six employees when I got there; we have fifty-six employees now.
00:02:41.145 It's doing really, really well. I've got a great Johnson & Wales graduate chef who studied two years in France
00:02:51.094 and had two restaurants of his own. He's probably one of the best chefs in North Carolina.
00:02:54.944 He's an old friend of mine and he's in there cooking, and it's just doing great.
00:02:59.217 We're still a big part of the university.
00:03:03.400 We do-. Elliott Avent, when the baseball team was flying off to go play in the regionals
00:03:11.508 at Florida their last dinner was at the PR that night and then they went out and got on the plane and flew down to play,
00:03:18.281 so I get all the coaches in there. The chancellor's in there all the time
00:03:21.711 and his wife, of course not as much since they moved him over there in the boonies at the new place.
00:03:26.416 He can't walk across the street at 11:00 and get a PBR anymore like he used to do.
00:03:31.682 But it's just an important part of North Carolina history and NC State history
00:03:38.040 so I'm just glad we were able to save it.