“Nick Neptune…What are you, some kind of superhero?”
That’s how Barack Obama, then the junior senator from Illinois, greeted the college student from UNC- Chapel Hill, then an intern in the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s office, at a congressional breakfast in Washington DC in 2005.
“I get that from so many people,” Neptune, now 32, says of the future U.S. president’s remark about his name. He keeps a framed photo of himself with Senators Kennedy and Obama on his desk at his workspace in The Assembly, alongside books on social justice, American culture, the arts and religion. “I was like, ‘Oh, Obama, get outta here!’ It’s a true story, though. You don’t know how many people say that to me, and I’m like, ‘President Obama said the exact same thing.’”
While he isn’t telepathic, can’t fly or turn invisible, Neptune possesses the superhumanly positive disposition, boundless energy, thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit that characterize the heroes we find in our communities close to home. His creativity and gift for reaching and uniting people through words, art and music have brought him to the forefront of some of Raleigh’s most exciting projects: Neptune was a founding partner of The Assembly, a shared studio space for independent artists and creatives in downtown’s Warehouse District, and, this summer, he will begin in a new role as general manager of Transfer Company Food Hall. His superhero name has even been floating around town recently as a potential candidate for elected office.
“I’m here because of the efforts of a community,” Neptune says of his work. “A community has uplifted me, family, teachers, counselors, coaches. The question is, ‘What am I doing to pay that forward?’ Because I see the difference that has made in my life.”
Neptune came to the Triangle from Winston-Salem for college in 2004. At UNC, professors steered him toward community service and, after graduating, he spent two years studying how UNC system schools were accommodating students with mobile impairments, including disabled veterans returning to the U.S. after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neptune traveled the state and country doing research and presenting his findings, and worked as an American Studies TA for his mentor, Dr. Rachel Willis. He remains committed, he says, to advocating for “access to higher education for all walks of life.”
In 2014, following a move to Raleigh, Neptune’s friend Matt Tomasulo (and our Young Leaders profile subject in February) asked him to DJ his wedding as a favor.
“I was like, ‘Are you out of your mind; I got an iPod and a boom box that barely works. I’m just a kid on the street that loves music, not a DJ,’” Neptune recalls telling Tomasulo. But he did the wedding anyway and soon, inquiries from people who wanted him to emcee other events began rolling in.
Neptune enlisted some friends and, together, they set rates, printed up business cards and built a website. Just like that, his events and music business, Good Times Assurance Company, was born. Though Neptune is the face of Good Times, he stresses the roles of the collaborators who helped guide the company along.
“At the end of the day, this is a team sport, like with most things,” Neptune says. “It’s always been a team effort.”
Neptune wanted to use his newfound platform as well as his penchant for collaboration to give back to the community that supported him. That summer, he, along with Shannon and Jake Wolf, owners of Capital Club 16, hosted the first-ever Recess Raleigh, a cookout and field day at Roberts Park in southeast Raleigh to raise money for the Awesome Foundation. The event was so successful that Recess Raleigh has become an annual event. Donations from last year’s cookout at Dix Park helped local nonprofit Helping Hands Mission purchase school supplies for southeast Raleigh kids.
As Neptune’s business, reputation and presence at Raleigh events grew, he caught the attention of Jason Queen, a local developer leading the effort to open the Transfer Company Food Hall in the old Stone’s Warehouse building in east Raleigh this summer. As Neptune tells it, Queen approached him to bring his experience in music programming and event planning to the 50,000 square feet of space as the food hall’s general manager, the “captain of the team.”
The project, which has been in the making since 2015 when Raleigh’s City Council sold the old building to Queen and his partners for $2 million, is an ideal fit for Neptune. Though the space won’t provide the affordable housing stock that some east Raleigh residents had hoped for, it will likely bring substantial economic revitalization to an area of downtown that historically has been underserved, as well as a grocery store to a food desert, and plenty of programs and events catered to the surrounding community.
“Raleigh is growing and developing and that has been an ongoing dynamic since the beginning,” Neptune says. “We’re going through a transition; the baton is being passed to us and the question is, ‘What will we do with it?’ The challenge to our generation is to find ways and means to ensure that the fruits of this growth and development are shared more equitably.”
When he takes the helm at Transfer Co., Neptune says, he’ll remain involved at The Assembly delivering art and design to the community, and with Good Times, hosting events. As for that potential run for higher office, Neptune says, at this point, he’s simply not interested.
“I’m having the time of my life celebrating, building and strengthening our community through music, art, food and play,” he says. “I want to live a life of love, joy and service to my community, and I would rather smile, laugh and dance while doing it. I’m deeply grateful to be able to do that. There’s no reason or need to add a political layer to it.”
An upcoming City Council run not being in the cards may come as a disappointment to those who already see Neptune as an influencer and would welcome his leadership in an official capacity. But Neptune seems to view his work on the ground as somehow more effective and more personally fulfilling, at least for right now.
“I want [Transfer Company] to be a constant celebration of food, knowledge and community,” Neptune says. “Utilizing our role as artists and performers as a method of communicating our values, that is something we can do. You should never put a ceiling on yourself, but I’m looking forward to this role for the next four, five years. I love a good challenge, and I never stop learning.” ■
Raleigh is one of the fastest growing cities in the country and, among all age demographics, the population of 25-34 year-olds consistently shows the highest growth rate from year to year. In recent interviews with Raleigh Magazine, some elected officials have expressed a desire to see more Millennials represented in local government. In this monthly series, we speak with the city’s civically engaged young people who we believe will be Raleigh’s future leaders.