He’s an entrepreneur with a servant’s heart—a leader in food and philanthropy who’s helped foster a collaborative spirit among Greenville’s entrepreneurs. You could measure Carl Sobocinski’s impact in meals, miles, millions, or the countless lives he’s touched with his generosity.
You may have eaten at one of his many restaurants but still have no idea how Sobocinski helped Greenville find its flavor. In the late 1990s, he was a young entrepreneur taking a big risk opening Soby’s New South Cuisine in a section of downtown that had gone dormant years before.
“We were young, naive, but we said, 'Hey, this is where city leaders say that the development is going to go, and if it is, then we want to be a part of it.'”
The man who was once a student of architecture saw the blueprint for what the city could be. His fearlessness played a role in growing Greenville from a sleepy southern town into a vibrant community known around the world for its hospitality and good taste.
You don’t have to look hard to see signs of Sobocinski’s success. He’s expanded from one restaurant to a thriving restaurant group. Trusting in the plan he helped lay out, Sobocinski moved west from the spot where he put down stakes for his flagship restaurant, Soby’s--blazing a trail down Main Street to River Place, Falls Park, the West End and, most recently, the new Camperdown development.
“Passerelle Bistro overlooking the falls and Liberty Bridge: By far the highest foot traffic, most attractive, most inviting place in downtown, so why not have a restaurant there? River Place: I saw architectural drawings and identified a spot that had these beautiful patios with a cascading waterfall and umbrellas at tables. I said, 'If that's going to be a restaurant, I want the opportunity to design it.'”
In the 24 years since Sobocinski took the chance on a once stumbling Main Street, his gamble has paid off, for all of us. Sobocinski was a driving force behind successful downtown events that have put Greenville on the worldwide “foodie” map. Thousands pour onto Main Street for the TD Saturday Market five months out of the year, and in 2006, Sobocinski and singer/songwriter Edwin McCain founded the food and wine festival, euphoria. The event pumps millions of dollars into Greenville’s economy every September.
“Eventually after you have a seat at the table, they ask you to take on a leadership role in something, and it's just something you can't say no to. The farmers’ market was a perfect example of folks on City Council and the mayor coming and saying, 'Hey, we need a farmers’ market, and we need some help organizing it. Would you be one of the organizers?' That was a blast to go and do that. It's an honor to be invited. Starting a food and wine festival was just a passion, but I had visited food and wine festivals around the country and saw the impact that they had on their community and said Greenville needs one.”
Sobocinski will readily admit some chapters of his entrepreneurial journey are better than others. He says he’s made his share of mistakes, but he feels lucky his successes have outnumbered his failures. Despite his many accomplishments and how he’s helped make Greenville Greenville, Sobocinski seems proudest of how he’s been able to share his success with those who helped him achieve it.
“I get a little emotional. We can change the world in hospitality and in what we are doing. Our three examples are Jorge Barreles, who is Papi and has taken over and owns Papi's Tacos. Michael Kramer, the chef that opened and was a managing partner at Jianna is now the owner operator of Jianna. Michael Minelli, who worked with us for a long time and was the managing partner at Passerelle Bistro took that restaurant over in early 2021.”
Carl Sobocinski earned his slice of the American Dream here in Greenville and now seems content to share pieces of it with people who helped him along the way. Through it all, he’s stayed humble--always willing to roll up his sleeves to lift his employees and his community.
“It's very rewarding. It makes a difference, and I think part of entrepreneurship is giving back and sharing the experiences that we've been given and that we've gone through with others so that they can hopefully be successful.”