Chef Greg Richie: SOCO
Before they were buzzwords in the culinary community, Chef Greg Richie was serving “farm to table” and “locally sourced” foods directly from the many prestigious restaurants he worked at in the South. This award-winning chef began his professional career in some of the southern region’s most critically acclaimed restaurants including The Abbey in Atlanta, The Lark and the Dove in Roswell, Georgia and the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Richie is a graduate of the Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina where he received much of his culinary education. Upon completion at the University, he worked under the direction of Roy Yamaguchi at the original Roy’s Restaurant in Hawaii before being selected as Chef and Partner in the Roy’s Orlando location. Not long after, Richie was given the opportunity to take over the kitchen of Emeril Lagasse’s Tchouop Chop restaurant located at Universal Orlando’s Royal Pacific Resort.
Like other successful chefs, Richie also had the desire to open a restaurant of his own. “Soco has long been a restaurant that I wanted to develop and see come to fruition.” says Richie regarding the contemporary Southern inspired restaurant he opened in Thornton Park in 2014. “Back when I was with Roy’s, I was already working on the concept, but with a different working title. It was in 2007 that the name [Soco] came to me.” Soco is the culmination of Richie’s own Southern heritage combined with the various cooking styles he’d picked up over the years.
Southern Contemporary (or Soco)
Soco has remained true to its concept—Southern Contemporary — while servers dressed in blue jeans have helped to create a decidedly relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps it’s for these reasons (aside from the delicious food) that Soco has found its success in Orlando. When asked what surprised him most opening a restaurant in Orlando, Richie says there’s no doubt it’s the people he has met along the way. “I am continually surprised and impressed by the people who live here in Orlando. We have such great people in our community and I am proud to be a part of it.”
As part of the community, Richie has been an inspiration to many with the successful launch of Soco. A year later, he followed up with a completely different concept restaurant called Baoery, a low-key Asian Gastropub that has already collected a handful of prestigious accolades, including Best Local Chef, Best Happy Hour and Critics Choice Award for No. 1 Sandwich. “It was always our goal to rebrand the Cityfish space and put an original concept [restaurant] there that was chef-driven,” he said.
Richie is grateful for the attention, but keeps an eye on continuity as way to give customers the best experience possible. And, there are challenges. “Staffing is always a challenge. More restaurants are continually opening but the culinary talent pool is getting thinner and thinner.” Not to mention the unexpected costs that can arise when starting any business. “Opening a restaurant is always more expensive than you project,” he said, “but you kind of do expect that. If you plan well, hopefully you have some cushion room.”
For food entrepreneurs interested in starting their own successful food-based businesses, Richie shares this advice, “Have a great product, plenty of funds, a great location and a great team of people to partner up with!”
Having worked for and been inspired by World Class chefs like Roy Yamaguchi and Emeril Lagasse, it’s no wonder Richie has been the recipient of several prestigious awards including Chef of the Year, Best Local Chef and Best Seafood in Orlando by Orlando Magazine. Year after year he is listed among the Top 20 Chefs of Central Florida. It is the combination of talents and training over the years that make Chef Greg Richie a star “foodpreneur” to study and learn from. His devotion to building an authentic food culture in Orlando with unique restaurant concepts, fresh foods and inviting gathering places is certainly raising the culinary bar of Orlando.