From sailing to serving
“I didn’t want this to be something that I looked back and said ‘I wish I had done it,’” said Duncan MacRae over a plate of Italian sausage lasagna based on his mother’s recipe.
Duncan is the co–owner of Yesterday’s restaurant in Five Points and has recently returned from three years sailing the east coast of the US and the Virgin Islands.
In 2002, he, his wife, Melody, and their dog and cat set sail from Charleston for an adventure that would take them from Maine to Key West. A 55–ft Catamaran equipped with three rooms, a galley, a bathroom, and heating and air conditioning would serve as their home at sea.
Among their favorite destinations was Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks of NC. “There were no restaurants or bars there, just you and nature,” Duncan said. He and Melody visited the area several times and had more than their share of encounters with nature. One evening following an afternoon swim, the couple noticed several sharks circling their boat. This happened every morning and every evening. Eventually, they discovered the sharks had been spoiled by years of travelers pitching the remains of their meals overboard. “I guess they figured scavenging for leftovers was better than hunting on their own,” he said.
During their three– year trip, Duncan and Melody docked in various ports and lived a “gypsy” life. Their adventure, however, was not without challenges, namely facing the open sea. At any point on their journey they could be 25–1,000 miles off the coast and at the mercy of mother nature. Duncan recalled one incident when the boat nearly sank in a vicious storm. Finally, they decided they had had enough and traded their sails for farm land. This year they decided it was time to return to solid ground and settle in a house in Lexington. They are currently building a farm where Melody plans to raise Arabian horses.
When Duncan set off for the high seas, he left the restaurant with his brother, Scottie MacRae, and business partner Darrell Barnes. The restaurant they founded in 1978 has become a staple in the college community and Five Points area.
Duncan was raised in Lancaster, PA, and attended college at Rutgers University where he earned a degree in journalism. His interest in the food industry began with his college job. After years working as a food and beverage director for Hilton and Trader Vic’s, as well as serving time in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, Duncan began searching for an ideal location to start a restaurant. Columbia fit the bill.
“It had everything we were looking for,” he said. “We wanted a college town with a state university and a great city.” They purchased Lombardi’s Italian Restaurant from Mike Lombardi and renamed it Yesterday’s. The atmosphere is rustic and inviting with a wide–ranging menu comprised of MacRae family recipes as well as some picked up along his travels. Duncan describes it as “the corner tavern with reasonably–priced drinks and food.” The restaurant is decorated with what he calls “junk-tiques,” reminders of days gone by.
Yesterday’s has even risen to international fame by being forever immortalized in the novels of Pat Conroy. The restaurant was mentioned once in The Prince of Tides as the place where the characters grabbed a bite to eat after a USC–Clemson football game. It was also mentioned seven times in Beach Music . All of Conroy’s four brothers spent time working in various capacities at Yesterday’s. As a result of their relationship, Conroy presented Yesterday’s with a rare gift, the Pentagon license plate of the real–life Great Santini, Colonel D. Conroy, which now hangs proudly over the bar next to an autographed picture of Coach Steve Spurrier.
Nowadays, Duncan only works part–time doing “all they stuff they (Scottie and Darrell) don’t want to do.” Having just turned 60, he looks forward to retiring to the farm. “After 28 years in the restaurant business, horses are just fine with me.”