Author:Blake, Kathy

In Moore County, where a half-hour drive can illustrate the difference between wealth and want, three business owners have succeeded in enterprises as diverse as the towns where they live.

Business startups are vital in all sectors of Moore, where a potpourri of health care, higher education, military transitions, leisure and private investment co-exist. "I think the key is we're an interesting anomaly as a county. We have something that is appealing here and is a reason why talented folks should consider being here, as opposed to an urban lifestyle, " says Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress Economic Development.

Here are three success stories.

When Yianni Kakouras was 5, his father bought a restaurant in Robbins and commuted 80 miles one way from Charlotte to work. "And every time I had a chance to go with him, I'd go. And when I turned 14 in high school, I started to work there," Kakouras says.

Robbins, population 1,180, is a 1,3-square-mile town in northern Moore County with an average annual household income of $22,336. Kakorus calls it laid back. "We kind of sustain ourselves," he says. "We by no means have the kind of money that flows through other towns. The handshake still means something. It keeps you humble."

Kakouras, 30, lives in Robbins and runs the restaurant--Carolina Fried Chicken and House of Pizza--and a gym, Flex Fitness, that he bought five years ago. His father, Pete Kakouras, also owns Pete's Family Restaurant in Carthage.

"Robbins is a good place to invest, " Yianni says.

The restaurant serves two menu pages of belly-filling meals and is a place to get a good job among neighbors.

The gym is more than a location to work out.

"The restaurant makes a profit; the gym, not so much. But it pays the bills and provides jobs. I'm trying to provide a service for the town, " Kakouras says. "There are people who used to hang out in the parking lot after hours, and now they're in the gym lifting weights."

Robbins, he says, has changed since a 2008 mill fire cost jobs. "We're trying to look for the next big thing, but what's going to stick? If something would come here it would give people hope, and they wouldn't have to live so frugally," Kakouras says.

Twenty-six miles south of Robbins in Aberdeen, a paying hobby emerged from the sound of Louisiana music.

Janet Kenworthy, a 61-year-old grandmother, saw a necessity while working a New Orleans shelter kitchen after Hurricane Katrina: "People warmed...

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