A window into On The Square in Tarboro

Windows provide a view into both the known and unknown. Windows can show people merged around a dinner table. Windows can show the skyline of cities. Windows can be shattered and rebuilt.Overlooking the WorldStephen Ribustello grew up in the bustling Hudson Valley of New York. Inez Ribustello in the quaint town of Tarboro, North Carolina. Interests in food and wine landed them both at the Windows on the World — one the most notorious restaurants in the county. Their expertise in the proficiency of wine tastings and pairings made them sommeliers.”I had really good interviews at Windows and got totally lucky,” said Stephen. “In the Spring of 2000, I was asked to be the sommelier in the main dining room at 24 years old.”Established connections in the wine profession lead Inez to Windows on the World as the beverage director. Inez and Stephen worked with a 1,500-label wine list as part of the largest-grossing, freestanding restaurant in North America.”Windows was a family. Everyone was friends — you knew birthdays and anniversaries; you ate together in the cafeteria; and you shared food,” said Inez.They had jobs most people only dream about in a city that never sleeps. The lights and sounds of New York were bright and loud until one morning when everything fell silent.Stephen had gone out the night before to catch the New York Giants football game. It went into overtime and he had to take the 2:30 a.m. train home which passed the World Trade Center on its’ way. Later in the morning, at 11 a.m., he was scheduled to work. Meanwhile, Inez had returned home to Tarboro days prior for her sister’s wedding.”Inez wasn’t back, if she was, she would have been at work,” said Stephen. “I had the window air unit on and didn’t hear the phone ringing. When I woke up, I had 27 messages on the answering machine. People were asking if I was okay. I didn’t know what was going on. I stuck my head out the window, normally I would see the top of the World Trade Centers, but there was nothing.”It was September 11, 2001 and the life Inez and Stephen knew had completely crumbled into the ashes and dust.”I remember sitting on the other side of the Hudson River looking at what used to be my building, my work and wondering who survived and who didn’t,” said Stephen.In the beverage department, two of its five members perished. Windows lost a total of 89 employees.”I think both of us thought if we could just get jobs in the city then everything could go back to normal — some type of normal — which was not the case at all,” said Inez.”I was an emotional wreck. I would wake up in the morning, be in the shower in a fetal position sobbing hysterically and wondering if I could get out the door to go to work,” she added.They remained in New York City working for six months before deciding it was time to find themselves, rebuild and discover where the next road would lead.Sitting on the SquareThe southern town of Tarboro, where front porches are made for visiting and the streets for strolling, was amassed with friendly faces, welcoming family and plenty of hamburger joints. It provided a place for Inez and Stephen to take a break and take a chance. The opportunity to purchase On the Square, a local eatery cornering the Courthouse Square presented itself.”Stephen told me it’s not going to work, but I’ll give you 18 months,” said Inez.Eighteen months that began in 2002 catapulted into years making On the Square a household name and one of the most widely recognized restaurants and wine bars in North Carolina. In addition, it helped a community find a common place to gather while providing much needed recognition to the town.”Tarboro is a community that welcomes others with open arms all the time,” said Inez.”Tarboro has been our cheerleader from day one and I don’t know any other community like that,” added Stephen.Serving lunch Monday thru Friday and dinner Thursday thru Saturday, the menu options are vastly different. All food is farm fresh and local. Soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers are offered up for lunch while dinner brings you delights such as Mushroom Ravioli, Pan Seared N.C. Beeliner Snapper, Petit Filet and Pork Tenderloin.”The filet and pork as they are now, are the same. They were the first additions to the menu and remain because they have such fans,” said Stephen.Everyone has their favorites: their favorite night to visit, their favorite drink or dessert to order, their favorite table to sit.On Wednesday nights, where the Square sells its signature sushi only, you’ll find the unofficial “boys club” of men in the community gathered around the front tables. Thursday finds itself the date night for the locals leaving the rest of the weekend for out-of-towners coming by the droves for dinner.”This is a neighborhood restaurant with a contemporary American cuisine,” said Inez. “I equate it to Cheers, nobody is a stranger when they sit at the bar or come into the restaurant.”On average, the Square opens its doors to more than 30,000 guests for lunch and 20,000 for dinner each year. Inside the wine shop, Dibon Cava of Spain tops the list with 5,520 bottles sold a year. Appetizers like calamari, marked as a favorite of customers, has Stephen ordering 1,600 pounds a year.Regardless if you are a local or an out-of-towner, you’ll find your way, make friends you didn’t know you had, and deepen your knowledge of wine and food culture.Already with their plate full in the restaurant business, Inez and Stephen decided on one more venture in the hopes of bringing more people together and making the town of Tarboro its own household name.Brewing you home againOn the corner of Main Street in what used to be a car dealership became the birthplace of the Tarboro Brewing Company. In February, the TBC opened its doors, tap room and first brews with names like Nana’s Roof, Town Common Ale, Downtown Abbaye, and First Ryed IPA. The crisp taste and nostalgic feelings remind you of home and Tarboro.”Its proven craft breweries will bring people to town. If people can see, ‘Tarboro Brewing Company,’ it is another reason to come down here,” said Inez.”Breweries in general will do a good job of revitalizing neighborhoods and that has been proven time and time again. We’re creating new jobs and selling beer outside of the area. It’s great when you can make something in Tarboro and sell it outside of Tarboro,” said Stephen.With a slogan of “crafted to bring you home again and again,” the beer is designed to bring you to Tarboro, said Stephen.”We’re bringing you here to Tarboro where it’s a safe, warm, and happy spot,” added Inez.From the Windows on the World came Inez and Stephen to Tarboro. Each found their own strength, built their own pillars from the ashes and in turn created a place where one can stand and peer through to discover the windows to the world of Tarboro.