Plans changed for this economic development veteran, but a new job and a new pub keep him moving forward
Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way for the couple married for 38 years. Both had just retired and were looking forward to traveling, buying a lake house, enjoying their new grandchildren. But in August 2021, while they were sitting in their Simpsonville kitchen, June Conner Broad suffered a fatal heart attack.
“We worked our whole lives to get to a second act,” Van Broad says during a sprawling two-hour chat at a pizzeria in the Village of West Greenville. “She got cheated out of that. We got cheated out of that.”
But Broad is turning the tables on loss. In May, he opens an Irish restaurant, Conner Flynn’s, combining his wife’s maiden name and “Flynn,” from the street in Charleston where they first met.
“I wanted to do something to honor her in my life,” Broad says. He wipes his eyes, quickly, inconspicuously, then: “And I’m going to get emotional.”
Van Broad’s 2nd Act
Not for long, though. He’s eager to talk about what he calls his Second Act, Part II. Over a bowl of melting vanilla-bean ice cream and a glass of Montepulciano, an Italian red from the same Tuscan town he visited after June’s death, he alternates between faith-filled contemplation about grief and full-throated laughs as he leans back in his chair.
As for Part I of his Second Act—his newest day job, as it were—he recently joined a Greenville realty and property management company as business development director. He did pretty much the same work in the public sector for the previous 15 years, serving as the city of Mauldin’s community development director from 2015 until last March, and eight years before that as economic director for Fountain Inn.
It stands to reason, then, that his upscale pub is designed in part to help develop the soon-to-boom city of Woodruff. Or, as he puts it, “You create your own circumstances, those circumstances being in cities where they need something to propel them to the next level.”
His daughter, Walker Areiza, says that’s his approach to everything he does. “Anywhere he goes, he brings just so much enthusiasm and spirit and joy, so it’s been really cool to see over his lifetime—or at least, what I’ve seen in my lifetime—what he’s done and what he’s built everywhere he’s gone,” says Areiza, a tax specialist in Greenville.
But opening a restaurant? For someone who acknowledges that those have a daunting failure rate, he doesn’t come across as a man who knows much about failure. During his stint in the Golden Strip, he drove two major projects: the Mauldin Cultural Center, a $1.1 million effort for which he drummed up a $661,000 grant, and the $1.5 million renovation of the Younts Center for the Performing Arts in Fountain Inn, where he was also its director.
He credits the performing arts for helping grow both small cities, according to an Upstate Business Journal story last year.
He was, after all, an opera singer once and performed musical theater. In 1995, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music and business from the College of Charleston. His father, Boyd, was a Baptist preacher in the Holy City; Van also served for 11 years as music and youth minister at First Baptist Church in Fountain Inn, where he and June raised their children, Matthew Broad and Walker Areiza.
“He’s been through a lot in the last couple of years,” Areiza says of her dad. “He’s very resilient and a fighter, and to see him pull through and to keep inspiring others is really exciting. He is incredible. He inspires us all, for sure.”