UNC student intern plans Farm to Table event at Wagner

ajames@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2013 

— Serving water to guests and taking up empty plates, Cassie Pezza’s job at the historic Wagner House offers just a glimpse of her strong work ethic and her integral role as an intern at the events house.

Pezza is a rising junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, and since May, she has been interning for Kelly Norman, who bought the Wagner House in January.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Wagner will play host to Farm to Table, a $50 per person dinner with food entirely from Johnston County farmers. Pezza organized the event from, well, farm to table, Norman said.

“Cassie called all of the farmers, she put together the menu, and I signed off on it,” Norman said.

Pezza, a graduate of West Johnston High School, has been accepted into UNC’s prestigious Kenan-Flagler School of Business, where she’ll study business administration.

“One day I’d like to own my own company, and then when I’m older, in my 60s, I have a dream of owning a bakery,” she said.

Pezza grew up answering the phone at her dad’s business, a small construction company that built patios. “I started answering the phone there when I was 12 and was used to being in the office, and I liked that atmosphere of being involved in a lot of different things,” she said.

Pezza knows hard work. At Chapel Hill, she is paying her way through college by working at Sugarland, a cupcake shop on Franklin Street.

“I’ve been working since I was 15,” she said.

Working through college

In high school, Pezza balanced a job, classes and her role as captain of the West Johnston dance team.

Next year, to gain business experience and help pay for school, she will have a paid internship with Northwestern Mutual, the life-insurance and financial-services company.

But first, she’ll study abroad in Hong Kong. Pezza recently won a Phillips Ambassador scholarship to study abroad for six weeks. She’ll be taking classes in international business.

“She is very hardworking, and I was happy to give her an opportunity to learn more first-hand,” Norman said.

After Pezza’s father lost his job last year and her mother had surgery, her parents could no longer afford college. But Pezza didn’t qualify for financial aid because of her parents’ previous income.

Norman has been a mentor to Pezza, and Pezza said she’s learned a lot from her.

“I see how Kelly took a risk and bought the Wagner house, and I’d say she is my role model,” Pezza said. “She takes opportunities as they come, and that has made her successful.”

A unique route

Norman’s own story is a unique one.

Reared in Garner, Norman started working at Best Buy when she was young. She didn’t attend college but was part of the original Geek Squad, which goes to homes to set up electronics, including home theater systems.

Norman worked her way up and eventually oversaw projects like installing all of the digital gear in the Dean Dome and RBC Center. Later, she joined Toshiba and moved to New York City, where she worked on HD DVD, which competed briefly with Blu-ray. Now, she oversees all of the events at the Wagner House, from catering showers to hosting weddings, and she has become a leader in the business community.

It was her idea to open the Wagner for Sunday brunch. The Wagner had previously been open for private events only.

In her time as an intern, Pezza has helped with weddings, showers and in the office doing payroll.

Last week, Pezza got to experience first-hand the stress business owners face when plans change at the last minute. Because of recent storms, several farmers she was relying on to provide food for Tuesday’s dinner had to cancel.

“We worked it all out though,” said Pezza, who scrambled to find other farmers who could replace the produce on the menu.

“We have so many resources here in North Carolina, I thought the dinner would be a great way to showcase the farmers and give them exposure,” Pezza said.

To buy a ticket for the Farm to Table dinner, call 919-538-2534.

James: 919-553-7234

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