GREENSBORO — Ben Roberts has hung up his chef's coat for good.
After 22 years, Roberts sold his interest in The Undercurrent to longtime employees and brothers Wes and Chris Wheeler.
The Wheelers became partners in the restaurant five years ago when Roberts stepped aside as operator and moved to Fancy Gap, Va., to help his wife start a medical clinic. At the time, the Wheelers worked at the restaurant. Wes was the bar manager and Chris was a sous chef.
Roberts said selling the restaurant is bittersweet, but he respects the importance of the transition.
“It’s a really good thing for the restaurant,” Roberts said. “A restaurant like Undercurrent deserves complete and undivided attention.”
Roberts was 39 when he put his culinary training to the ultimate test and took over the restaurant in 1998 when it was at 600 S. Elm St. He put his savings and soul into the restaurant with the help of his wife, Susie, who was an intensive care nurse. The couple raised their two kids Savannah and Dylan in an apartment above the restaurant. Long nights and perseverance paid off and the 13-table spot became a five-star restaurant with an award-winning wine list.
The restaurant’s popularity outgrew its tiny location and in 2006, Roberts gutted a former auto parts store near the First National Bank Field and created a new, more spacious restaurant at 327 Battleground Ave.
Shortly after moving out of the space on South Elm Street, the restaurant suffered fire damage. Roberts rebuilt and opened the restaurant as Table 16 which he operated for a year before selling it.
In addition to helping his wife run the clinic, Roberts stays in shape by working out at the gym and riding motorized dirt bikes. He said the adrenaline rush reminds him of those busy Saturday nights in the kitchen of the restaurant when he was “Focused and pushing to make things happen.”
Roberts said Wes Wheeler just turned 39, the same age as he was when he took over the restaurant.
“I think that’s a good omen,” Roberts said.