Melanie Wiesen



A Q&A WITH Ceo and founder of wye hill hospitality, sara abernethy

For hundreds of years, residents and visitors have recognized the Boylan Bridge as a pivotal landmarka perfect panorama of Raleigh’s downtown cityscape. Also perched atop the bridge, a beautiful historic building (originally home to the Pittsburg Plate Glass Company in 1949) and patio with endless promise. In 2019, its potential was fully realized, as Sara Abernethy and Chris Borreson took the reins, opening Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing. It quickly became a beloved gathering place and celebratory spot for the community. At its core, a staff devoted to creating a boundlessly delightful experience via food, drink and connection.

We’re about to celebrate five years of Wye Hill. How did this journey begin for you and your husband Chris?

I grew up in Raleigh and remember driving over this bridge countless times. I remember this as the old Boylan Bridge Brewpub, and knowing it for the patio and for the view. Then, coming back to Raleigh in 2017, we met the previous owner here. 

Chris and I came out on one of those beautiful 65 degree December days and were the only two sitting out here on the patio. We just asked ourselves “Where is everybody?” We asked ourselves what potential this place had to be an incredible cornerstone for Raleigh if we had the menu, the vibe, the cocktails and the beer leveled up to the quality of the amazing view. We were very excited by the prospect of painting that picture. It’s so amazing to me that five years later, we’ve done it.

Since opening, Wye Hill has been a go-to celebration spot in Raleigh for people’s milestones. But, now you are able to celebrate this big five-year milestone with everyone that has supported Wye’s growth. Does that feel like something that is very full circle?

I think it’s actually hard for some of us to celebrate ourselves. It’s so much easier to focus on others. But, that’s why this milestone is so important for me to acknowledge. Five years as a small business is incredible. Five years as a restaurant– especially for two people who didn’t have previous experience as restaurateurs– it’s the thing I’m most proud of in my life. 

So, it feels amazing to honor that. But, it also is so special to do it alongside the team that got us there.

How has the way that you see Wye changed within the last five years?

The early years were such a blur. How I saw it in the beginning was really so attached to myself and Chris driving the car. What I see now here that’s so special is a team of people that are driving the car. And, I think that the folks that we’ve had the pleasure of working with have really treated the vision with such care and want to make a great place to work and come to work. They want to create a great experience for the guests that come here. 

So, the biggest difference now is really just the community that we have built internally and within Raleigh.

How have you changed as a business owner/human in the last five year?

I am a different woman today than I was when we got the keys to the building in 2018. I’ve definitely had to really learn to be kind to myself. And, it has helped me garner more empathy towards others.

Any customer service situation can be really taxing. But, where I really think the magic gets made is when you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes. So, being the leader of a team or being a restaurateur welcoming guests into the taproom has helped me become a more empathetic person. 

It also, truthfully, has helped me realize how important the role of small business and local restaurants is in a community to make it really special. It’s vital. So, it’s really an honor to get to do this every day.

The brewing program has become the backbone of Wye Hill. Can you speak a bit about that progression from where you stand and about what is to come? 

It is amazing to think about how originally the brewhouse was on the mezzanine floor. And, really it was this antique seven-barrel system. Originally, this was one of the very first craft breweries in Raleigh when that movement began gaining traction in the 90s. So, it is special in that way. 

Since growing our brewery team, it’s really helped us solidify our vision of beer as a holistic creative human process. It is magic making back there. It is really really cool what kind of magic can happen in a tank. It ends up being so much greater than the sum of the parts. 

Owen and Nick are really incredible artists, and their commitment to the craft– sometimes obsessive commitment to the quality–is so appreciated. 

In terms of what’s to come, we’re really excited to be able to start offering distribution locally here in Raleigh.

Precious Stones is an incredibly unique creation that speaks so much to Wye’s experimental capacities as a brewery. How poignant of a representation do you feel that this beer is for the 5th anniversary?

Something we do really well here, that our very talented brewing team is committed to, is taking calculated risks in the brewing process. Taking elements of beer you really love and really elevating it forward, so that the final product is refreshing, but familiar. One of the best examples of that is Precious Stones anniversary beer, which is a barrel aged Maibock. Something they’ve been doing over the last few years is really experimenting with various lagering techniques, and Precious Stones is a great example of that.

What do we have to look forward to at the WyeTurnsFive event on June 8th?

What we have going on is a daytime block party! If you know Chris and I, you know that we are daytime folk. We have a small child, so late evenings are not in the cards for us these days. But, June 8th, we are inviting chef Chris Lopez– currently of Glasshouse Kitchen– to join us here at Wye Hill for a very special, one-time-only reprise of Gov’t Cheeseburger! Beloved during the pandemic, at a time when so many of us just needed a delicious burger. 

We’re going to be doing live glass engraving. We’re going to be doing face painting. We’re having live music and a DJ. We’re really just trying to make this a party, and use this not only as a way to celebrate this milestone for the team and ourselves, but just as a way to say thank you so much to Raleigh from the bottom of our hearts for all of the support– through the pandemic, through the post pandemic, through all of the last five years– to make Wye Hill what we dreamed it could be.

We’ll see you there. Get your tickets now!