Originally hailing from the mountains of North Carolina, Chef Patrick Cowden spent his childhood and college years in southwest Michigan. The food service industry is all Chef Patrick has ever known, having worked in various roles from front of the house to bartending, managing and eventually, cooking in the back of the house. This stemmed off into Chef Patrick attending the New England Culinary Institute. He attended the Montepelier, Vermont campus as it focused on offering experience and education on running an independent restaurant. Chef Patrick knew he wanted to eventually work in this area of food service as he has always valued the “hands on” experience offered in these establishments.
After graduation, Chef Patrick headed to Boston for a stint before heading back south to North Carolina in 1984. Chef Patrick worked for many large scale operations from the Triangle on over to the NC coast of Morehead City. He worked for the pastry chef Sandra Lee Inn & Resort for a time, where he credits this experience for giving him greater experience in the sweet side of the menu, which added to his toolbelt of savory cooking skills. Eventually migrating back west to the Triangle, Chef Patrick wound up working at Jean Claude’s in North Raleigh and learned so much from the owner that he decided to move to the back of the house full time. Chef Patrick moved on with this invaluable experience to Michael Dean’s Rocky Top Catering through the Grill at Glen Lennox, Michael Jordan’s 23, the Weathervane and eventually to Durham for his last stint at Tobacco Road Sports Cafe.
Chef Patrick spent years working and acquiring experience in larger restaurant operations, but he longed to get back to his roots of a small, independent operation where he could get back in touch with the food by being “more me” with a hands-on approach. While working at Michael Jordan’s 23, Chef Patrick met future business partner, Daniel Whittaker. These two had formed a working relationship over the years, with dreams and aspirations of “one day” opening a food joint together that combined both their cooking and environment philosophies. This opportunity arose in 2015 and Chef Patrick and Daniel have hit the ground running ever since. Seeing that Pharmacy Cafe has been a downtown Raleigh staple since the 1940s, an internal upgrade was long overdue. With remodelling and renovations starting in March 2015, the “new” Pharmacy Cafe opened its doors in December 2015.
Pharmacy Cafe makes every effort to utilize environmentally friendly items when at all possible. This is evident throughout the restaurant from their compostable disposable utensils and cups to their segmented bins for waste, recycle and compost. Daniel is also the owner of Green Planet Catering, so he has extensive experience in being environmentally responsible in the food service industry. Both Chef Patrick and Daniel reiterate they are “working local, utilizing compostable products and conscious management of food waste” when running Pharmacy Cafe. This speaks volumes in their commitment to be a local, neighborhood hotspot for “spanking good sandwiches” while also being conscious and proactive in helping their community and ecosystem.
This translates to Pharmacy Cafe’s menu, as Chef Patrick created it specifically with the “flexibility to be hyper local” with the ingredients they use. Daniel not only has a long-time working relationship with Raleigh City Farm, he grows many of the items that are utilized both on Pharmacy Cafe’s menu and with the events for Green Planet Catering.
Chef Patrick and Daniel are excited for people to come in and try their new menu, which launched in early February. Do yourself a favor and order the cherry soda with hibiscus-lavender-oak bitters. Chef Patrick shared his childhood favorite soda with me and I still have dreams about it. The cherry “syrup” is made from tart Michigan cherries and it is an undeniably refreshing drink as it hits the notes of slightly sweet, herby and effervescent all-in-one. Chef Patrick reiterates that all their flavored soda “syrups” and “mixes” are made in house from fresh fruit and natural ingredients. The new menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads, sides, milkshakes, floats and classic soda fountain drinks are playful renditions while still paying homage to the nostalgia of years past.
With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, you can tell how elated Chef Patrick is to be working in an environment that inspires and cultivates his culinary creativity at Pharmacy Cafe. Chef Patrick has fond memories of saddling up to the soda fountains of his childhood alongside his brother. He explains that he wants this feeling to translate over to Pharmacy Cafe and for it to be “the whole package.” He explained, “We want to serve great sandwiches with top notch service, with a heavy emphasis on customer service. We want to build a sense of community around Pharmacy Cafe but with no pretentions.”
On the Sunday and Monday nights Pharmacy Cafe is closed, they host family-style private events that offer an intimate dining experience for attendees. The gorgeous, wooden dining table that serves as the centerpiece of Pharmacy Cafe was custom made for the space. Chef Patrick says they chose this specifically to give diners “a sense of home” as they all sit around the table, sharing a meal with fellow cafe-goers. Lucky for us, Pharmacy Cafe will be hosting a Foodie Dinner Adventure on March 7th at 7pm. Join us for an intimate, yet laid back dinner experience while Chef Patrick works his magic to serve up some old school sandwich favorites with a modern take.
Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @