Journey to the Top

By Maggie Miles | Thursday, June 15, 2023

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When Meghann Pauls, one of the few longtime Corolla locals, returned home after graduating from college in 2002, she began waiting tables at JK’s Restaurant, a steak and seafood house in Corolla. Little did she know that one day she would be the owner of a restaurant in that very same building.

After working in retail from ages 14 to 22, Pauls had needed a change. She discovered the fast-paced environment of the restaurant industry and loved it. “I liked the hours and the more social aspect of it,” she says. “I just thought it was a lot of fun.”

Pauls says she grew into management at the restaurant because she always did more than what was asked of her, and the owner of the restaurant, Mike Dianna, took notice.

“I always took things to the next level and did a lot more than I had to,” she says.

In 2016 Pauls became the official owner of Mike Dianna’s Grill Room, and she is proud of her journey from server to restaurant owner. “It feels good, you know?” she says.

Of course, she adds, it was not always an easy road. Going from being a team’s subordinate to being their boss is going to have its hurdles, especially for a woman in a male-dominated industry. But she persevered and before long had built strong, trusting relationships with her staff and the community of vendors and repairmen that it takes to make a restaurant thrive like Mike Dianna’s Grill Room does. Pauls believes her experience as a server and manager helps her to be a better leader in the restaurant.

“I’m very hands-on,” she says. “And I think that really helps because I have never asked anybody to do anything that I haven’t done, and if that is the case, we’ll do it together. I am right here with them; I’m not just like ‘Do this and I’m leaving.’”

In fact, if you look for Pauls in the restaurant, she’s probably in the kitchen cooking your food, creating the specials and running the kitchen.

Because she is so hands-on in the restaurant, Pauls thoroughly enjoys her five-month winter break. It’s her time to recharge and get inspiration for the next year’s menu. She does this by traveling – sometimes across the county, sometimes on a cruise and frequently on weekend trips with her two daughters to nearby gems in our region. Pauls says that on a recent trip up the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle, she ate brunch and dinner out every day and came home with her luggage full of notes and pictures of everything she had tasted to assist her in coming up with new creations.

An example is her variety of pickled foods. After trying a pickle bar at a Jewish deli in Richmond, Virginia, Pauls was inspired to decorate the various dishes on her menu with an array of pickled vegetables.

“I saw this sign that said to come up to the counter and pick three pickled things,” Pauls says. “So I tried it and thought, ‘Oh my god. I can do that.’ And now it’s evolved into all kinds of things.”

The Mike Dianna’s Grill Room menu items include all different styles of pickled cucumbers, asparagus, carrots, onions, watermelon rinds and rhubarb – even pickled strawberries and peaches, all of which she gets locally and organically as much as possible.

Although Pauls still has rare moments in which she has to prove her experience and knowledge when certain individuals are surprised to see a woman walk out of the kitchen, she is proud of her progression in the industry and proud of her woman-owned business.

To women who currently work in the restaurant industry and dream of owning their own restaurant, Pauls has this to say: “Just keep going. Just keep doing it. Because eventually, you will be able to surround yourself with people who believe in you and know that you are doing the right thing.”

Pauls hopes everyone comes out to Mike Dianna’s Grill Room this summer, takes in their live music (which will be starting back up this year) and maybe even relishes in a pickled strawberry or peach. She’ll surely be there to say hi if you do.

(252) 453-4336

777 Sunset Boulevard
Timbuck II Shopping Center
Corolla, NC