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Mark Henderson was a veteran of many restaurant management jobs when he took the leap, along with seven people he supervised, to buy what is now Hollywood’s.
Mark Henderson sits across from me in a long booth at the back corner of Hollywood’s Restaurant and Bakery. He sets a piece of scrap paper with dates neatly printed in black ink, on the table in front of him. He scans the room, watching his staff finish morning prep work. Then he turns to me, says something about being horrible with dates, and begins talking about his employees. This dishwasher does every job in the place. That server who just turned 40, she’s been with him since she was 21. Henderson—nicknamed Hollywood years ago by some friends as a joke—keeps on like this; deflecting his own rising story, causing light to shine on his people instead.
Henderson began his career as a fifth-grade substitute teacher in Franklin County. The Rocky Mount native loved his experience. As such, he accepted a position teaching high school remedial math. Sometime during that year, he decided to work at the Ground Round in Roanoke as a host. By summertime, Henderson was offered a management position.
“I just wanted to meet people,” he laughs, shaking his head at providence’s strange ways.
That was 1980. Over the next 22 years, Henderson worked as a general manager at two more Roanoke restaurant chains—Chi-Chi’s and Texas Steakhouse.
Henderson liked his work as a general manager, but he started wishing for a restaurant of his own. A restaurant not like the chain restaurants he’d been managing.
“I’ve always said I wanted a joint,” he says. “A really good restaurant that’s…not pretentious. People can feel good if they have a suit and tie on or shorts on. And a wide variety on the menu.”
In January of 2002, in a convergence of seemingly unrelated events, Henderson was able to see his restaurant wish come true. He left Texas Steakhouse, and, with his wife, Chris Henderson, bought Wildflour Cafe on Williamson Road. Seven of Henderson’s steakhouse employees moved with him. Slowly the couple began making the place their own.
“When we first took over, it was scary,” says Henderson of those early years. “I remember going home one night…and saying to my wife, ‘You know, I’ve never had a job I couldn’t quit.’ Everything we had was attached to the loan. That was scary. But, you know, we just kept working and working, and slowly started to see things improve.”