British immigrant Mark Elliott opened his first restaurant, Elliott’s on Linden, in the fall of 2000, serving up southern staples such as shrimp and grits alongside more creative culinary endeavors like elk chops with lemon-sage marmalade and pomegranate jus. The fine-dining eatery was a hit: Within months, Elliott had doubled the size of the restaurant. Since then, he’s opened a gastropub, a coffee shop, and a thriving catering business. He now employs about 60 people and has revenues of around $4 million a year. “I’m not a burden for the system. I’m a net producer,” he says. “I send checks to North Carolina to the tune of $12,000 to $16,000 a month just in sales tax, so you can imagine how much I’m sending to the federal government.”
Growing up in a sleepy British seaside town, Elliott had always dreamed of being a chef. He spent much of his childhood in the kitchen of his father’s hotel, or chopping garnishes at a local restaurant. After school, he completed a five-year apprenticeship then cooked his way across Europe before being hired, while still in his 20s, to be the personal chef for a wealthy American couple. It was a glamorous lifestyle: One week, he’d be cooking in a yacht off the French Riviera, the next, he’d be at the family’s estate in Hawaii.
Elliott says he now feels just as American as any of the tourists and retirees who dine at his restaurants; after all, he says, his story and his success is something that’s quintessentially American.
While in Hawaii, Elliott married an American. After their first child was born prematurely, the couple moved to Pinehurst, North Carolina, to be near Elliott’s in-laws. “It was a complete culture shock for me,” he recalls. “But I realized that it was a great place to raise a family.” Elliott found work as the executive chef of a local restaurant and began honing his managerial skills while saving to open a restaurant of his own. “It’s while I was working there that I started realizing there was a real possibility that I could be my own boss, and own my own business,” he says. In England, the idea would never have occurred to him, he says, but in America, with less red tape to worry about, it seemed like a realistic option. “It’s the spirit of America — start something up, see where it goes,” he says. “It’s not so complicated over here to open a business.”
Elliott employs a number of immigrants — the manager of his gastropub is another Brit, and he has several Colombians and Mexicans working in his kitchens — but he is careful to verify their legal status before taking them on. “If they don’t have the paperwork, it’s not worth the hassle,” he says. Still, he’s sympathetic toward people who come to America in hopes of building a better life for themselves, and he believes there should be a more streamlined immigration system for “good, honest workers” who aspire to live here. “There should be a system that’s more cohesive and clear for people,” he says. “The land is vast, and can sustain it.”
In Pinehurst — a town popular with retirees and golfers and nestled a stone’s throw from Fort Bragg — most people aren’t troubled by immigrants. Many have moved from elsewhere in the United States through military service, or in search of better weather and better golf courses. Elliott says he now feels just as American as any of the tourists and retirees who dine at his restaurants; after all, he says, his story and his success is something that’s quintessentially American. “I sometimes feel that I’m even more American than natural-born citizens,” he says. “When you think about the first immigrants who came here, I’m like them: I came here with zero, and zero expectations, but the opportunities came my way, and the rest is history.”