By Hope Yancey
Cory Simpson launched his first business enterprise cleaning gas station parking lots and stocking merchandise at the tender age of about 12. His dad, Al, drove him to stores on a schedule that sometimes began as early as 4 a.m. His mom, Alice, didn’t object, as long as he did well in school.
As a teenager, Simpson started a lawn service and cleaned gutters. Those ventures foreshadowed his passion for entrepreneurship.
Simpson, 41, owns The People’s Market at Dilworth, a food market and café on East Boulevard, and The Queen & Glass, a craft cocktail bar and restaurant adjoining the market. The market opened first, in November 2017.
Simpson’s yellow smartphone case and the watchband he wears on a March afternoon match the cheerful yellow hue decorating the market.
“I wanted it to be a place that embodied the neighborhood, but at the exact same time, allow the people to make it what they wanted it to be,” he says, noting the market tries to offer something for everyone.
The menu reflects this emphasis, with breakfast offered all day and a selection of vegan items, in addition to other specialty sandwiches, burgers, tacos and salads. Many dishes are in the $8-$10 price range. Coffee, tea and smoothies also are available.
The market has partnered with local vendors to sell their products, such as Move That Dough Baking Co., a purveyor of vegan doughnuts.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the market has been interacting with customers. “It is so pleasing to know that your customers appreciate what you’re doing – and what you’re trying to do,” Simpson says.
Philanthropy has been important for him. Once, the market gave 100 “blessing bags” of toiletries, snacks and bottled water for customers to distribute to people in need.
During the Christmas season, the market collected holiday gifts from the neighborhood, and Simpson drove around in his car, handing them out to homeless individuals.
His bar, The Queen & Glass, opened next door in 2018 and features a Queen Charlotte mural he inherited from the previous occupant of the space. Simpson expanded the theme by enlisting an artist to create paintings depicting queens of diverse ethnicities to hang on other walls.
Customers may know Simpson better as Cory Duran. Duran is his middle name, but these days he uses it as a last name in some business and creative pursuits.
Simpson is a native Charlottean, who grew up in the Hidden Valley neighborhood and attended Independence High School. While the path to entrepreneurship may seem natural now, Simpson says he originally intended to enter law school after college. A 2000 graduate of Winston-Salem State University, he majored in history and completed his undergraduate studies in three years, while working at the same time. He shares his Dilworth condominium with his Great Dane, Daenerys, whose name references a character in the “Game of Thrones” TV series.
Simpson has eclectic professional and volunteer interests. He’s worked in the financial services industry, including a stint with Merrill Lynch. He also has tried writing and entertainment.
A client from Merrill Lynch purchased a film script he wrote, though the movie hasn’t been produced, he says. He describes the script as a religious story with comedic and serious elements.
A book he authored, “Random Thoughts From a Random Guy,” is part memoir and carries a positive message. He says he churned out the work on his laptop in Amelie’s French Bakery.
He has served previously as a volunteer reading tutor in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Drawing on his financial experience, Simpson envisions the future possibility of founding a digital bank without walls. One can imagine him pursuing it with the same hard work he pours into his other projects.
To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/ThePeoplesMarketDilworth.