Meet Daniel Island’s Longtime Servers

What do you want for dinner tonight?”
It’s an age-old question that has perplexed couples and families for years. There’s no denying that dining in and around Daniel Island will be a good time – the hard decision is deciphering which of the options will satisfy your craving.
Dining out is not just about the food. Behind the tasty bites and island views are the people who can make your restaurant experience even more memorable – your servers.
In tight-knit communities, some restaurants make you feel like you’ve stepped into your own personal rendition of “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name.
Meet a few of the island’s favorite servers, who have been the friendly faces of local restaurants for years.
Tori Leigh, Vespa Pizzeria
Not many servers can say they have stuck with the same job through the pandemic, but Tori Leigh can. She’s worked at Vespa Pizzeria on Daniel Island for eight years now. 
“I grew up on Daniel Island from age one all the way to 18 when I left for college,” she said.
“Originally, the island had very few dining options, so over the past five to 10 years, it has been awesome seeing so many new restaurants pop up while the older businesses have kept busy. We currently have a great variety of restaurants on Daniel Island but I might have a secret favorite – Vespa!”
Leigh started as a hostess in high school and was then promoted to serving. She kept up the pace while studying at the College of Charleston, but after graduation, she said it didn’t feel right to leave.
“After graduating college, I decided I wasn’t quite done with the server life. Serving allows me to have a very flexible schedule, which works well with my spontaneous, travel-loving lifestyle!”
Having spent the majority of her young adult life within Vespa’s walls, Leigh said having the ability to create relationships with regular customers is the best part of the job.
“I have tables that come in and request me, and that always makes my night!”
Leigh’s commitment to excellent customer service extends beyond the dining experience. Her goal is to make each interaction memorable, down to eye-catching earrings that have been a conversation starter with guests and their kids.
What’s kept her going all these years comes from the support of Vespa owner Tammy Haight and her friendships with coworkers. The key to a great server, she said, comes down to being as welcoming and kind as possible.
“I try to give my customers the best service by showing up to work with a positive attitude and in happy spirits. People go out to eat to relax, and enjoy food and service, so I do my best to cater to whatever my tables need.”
For longtime servers like Leigh, success lies in personalization and genuine Southern hospitality.
“I think the way to make a restaurant successful in a tight-knit community like Daniel Island is to be personable.
“It’s important to remember details about your customers and treat them kindly so they have a reason to come back. At Vespa, we see familiar faces every single night, and I think people really love that we want to engage with them.”
Jacqueline Dornick, The Kingstide
As a server at The Kingstide on River Landing Drive for over three years, Jacqueline Dornick was initially drawn to the hustle and bustle of restaurant life.
“I was drawn to the profession because I enjoy a fast-paced environment, meeting new people, and making new experiences for others and myself.”
Living in Charleston for only a few years, Dornick has found more than just a job at The Kingstide; it’s become a second home. 
Motivated by her passion for the job, she said she cares about the people she works with, and the guests she meets every day. 
“The locals coming in really make the experience for me on the day to day, because I’ve gotten to truly know and care about them. I love being able to make a lasting impression, a memorable experience, and relationships.”
Watching The Kingstide grow over the years, Dornick said she has been able to welcome both Daniel Island locals as well as people from all over Charleston. From witnessing wedding proposals on the dock, hosting baby-gender reveals, and taking in waterfront events, Dornick said working at Kingstide is a memorable experience for servers and guests alike.
What makes a server unique? Dornick said it’s all about making a lasting impression.
“I think making a lasting impression is important. Offering a great atmosphere and service is key. It doesn’t matter if the food is great if the service isn’t also top-notch. We pride ourselves on being able to offer both.”
The best part of the job, according to Dornick, is the people.
“I get the best of it all with a beautiful view, great people to work with, great food to serve, and the people I get to meet! I especially enjoy it when I get to see the same guests a few times each week. It really makes my day, and hopefully theirs too. I think that’s why they keep coming back. It’s not just about the place, but the people.”
Dax Vernon, New Realm Brewery 
By day, he’s a sales whiz; by night, he’s serving up drinks and smiles.
Dax Vernon is a jack-of-all-trades, taking calls at Blackbaud as a senior services account executive and also taking orders at New Realm Brewery on Island Park Drive.
Why take on an extra job? Vernon calls serving at the restaurant an outlet.
“Blackbaud went fully remote back in 2020, so I had been looking for another outlet to be around great people, and New Realm has been exactly that.”
A Daniel Island resident since 2015, Vernon remembers when there were only a handful of restaurants around the island. With more choices like New Realm popping up over the years, he said he is happy to see the island continuing to add more dining options for area foodies.
Vernon said working at New Realm isn’t just for the tips and pre-concert parties, he also highlights the chance to learn the restaurant’s beer brewing process, which he says is integral to a server’s training.
“With the 20-plus beers we have on tap at any given time, I’ve also been able to expand my knowledge on the brewing process and the various flavor profiles that we offer to our guests. Never stop learning!”
Vernon said other perks of working at New Realm include hearing live music on the weekends and even meeting TV stars.
“Very recently, (reality TV cast members) Whitney Sudler-Smith and Patricia Altschul came to New Realm for Sunday brunch and said there may be a chance they bring their ‘Southern Charm’ cameras to shoot here before the end of 2024. We also see members of the (Netflix series) ‘Outer Banks’ cast pop in from time to time.
(Actor) Nick Cirillo was here with some friends last week and was one of the nicer guests I’ve had the pleasure of serving.”
Vernon said the real magic in serving is working hard to make guests feel comfortable while evoking a delightful dining experience.
“Asking the right questions is always top of mind. Making people feel comfortable and appreciated will also help in earning their trust. So whether I’m serving, bartending, or just helping out, I know that keeping customers happy is the ultimate goal.
“All of Daniel Island and the surrounding area flows through New Realm at some point or another. Whether someone has been with us 100 times or if it’s their first time, we want to make sure that we are offering the same experience to everyone to keep them coming back for more.”
Ruby Buddeberg, Mpishi Restaurant 
Serving is in Ruby Buddeberg’s blood.
As a server in the industry for 20 years, she has spent the last three at Mpishi Restaurant, located on Seven Farms Road.
“I was initially drawn to this business as a young adult who loved to socialize with people and make a quick buck. As a mother and wife now, this industry provides me with a family-friendly schedule and still, that quick buck.”
From serving at wedding parties to seeing her regulars come in every week, Buddeberg makes an effort to greet each table with a smile. Her favorite guest experiences come from regulars like “Mr. Dennis,” who doesn’t mind taking his time to eat.
“He comes in every day, has breakfast, drinks his coffee, and always puts a smile on your face with his contagious laughter.”
Buddeberg prides herself on her ability to read her guests. She explained that some diners come in for a formal experience, while others prefer a little banter.
“I’m happy to provide either,” she said.
From her time at Mpishi, Buddeberg has learned that success comes from local support.
“In a community such as Daniel Island, I don’t think any restaurant would be successful without support from the locals and other businesses. Daniel Island does a great job of trying to build the community up instead of knocking it down.”
Buddeberg has served all over – not exclusive to the island. It’s a job she said demands customer attention and the fulfillment of being a part of guests’ lives. What keeps her going after 20 years is getting to watch her regulars grow.
“I see regulars grow, I watch their kids grow, and it’s just nice to be a part of that small piece of their lives. Honestly, what keeps me going is knowing this profession has allowed me to make sure that I also get to be home and part of my family.”
Sarah Green, Wasabi of Daniel Island
When Sarah Green first started serving at Wasabi on Daniel Island on Seven Farms Drive, she had no idea she would stay for eight years and counting.
“I initially wanted a part-time job just to fill my time. Up to that point, I was a stay-at-home mom. My son was starting kindergarten, so it gave me something to do and put a little money in my pocket.”
Watching restaurants come and go before and after the pandemic, Green said she has seen the restaurant game through its highs and lows. Although she said the job can get pretty repetitive, “it’s always cool to see a local celebrity or two in here!”
What keeps her going are the people she works with and the customers.
“I’ve made friendships that I hope last a lifetime. Not just with co-workers but with the customers as well. In my time at Wasabi, I have seen families grow from one child to three, babies to starting kindergarten. You become invested in their lives.”
For Green, service transcends transactional interactions; it’s about cultivating genuine friendships and connections within the community. She strives to treat customers the way she would like to be treated, so they can enjoy their dining experience.
“I think the people are what makes a restaurant successful in a small community like this one. You get to know your customers. You develop a relationship with them, and they become your friends.”

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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