WILMINGTON – It’s location along Old Eastwood Road, heading northbound on Market Street, hasn’t provided a great history of success. But Johnny Luke’s Kitchen Bar has started to buck a trend as it inches closer to its first birthday on Feb. 15.
From upwards of 20 rotating craft brews from across the Port City and North Carolina, to serving up some of its popular dishes, including Brie in Pastry, Crab Cakes, Jane’s Addiction and Uncle Stan’s Chicken Pot Pie, Johnny Luke’s has satisfied plenty of return customers and new ones alike.
Its second floor lounge — JL’s Loft — has seen tremendous growth based on its unique outdoor patio setting, in addition to the restaurant’s ability to host 15-to-18 tops alongside big parties of 20 or more, owner John Jackson said.
Johnny Luke’s downstairs, modern setting continues to offer patrons of all ages an upscale experience through a casual, friendly atmosphere. The menu includes a variety of soups, salads, flat breads and large dinner plates, like its $26 filet mignon or similarly priced Parmesan crusted pork chops.
“We’ve increased sales steadily and really, with it being our first year here, we’ve been steady with us being in midtown Wilmington rather than some of the peaks and the valleys you might see downtown or at the beach,” Jackson said. “Building our regular base and return business has been the key. Our customers have been very supportive and really pulling for us.”
Despite one of the restaurant’s biggest challenges, which has been getting the general public familiar with its location, Jackson and business partner Luke Burke knew things would pick up as patrons began to enjoy consistency in the food they serve.
“The way to win this game is to have a passionate group of fans who love what you’re doing,” said Jackson. “It’s been a little bit of surprise to hear people say it’s a tough location to find when I look out and we’re right on Market Street. There are so many options in Wilmington, but we’ve been pretty successful once we get them in here. From the quality of food, our service levels, a cool atmosphere. We can get customers back, but we just have to get them here first.”
Kitchen Manager Edward Grittner jumped on board the operation before Johnny Luke’s opened its doors one year ago and the seasoned chef shared optimism in the establishment’s approach. Being constant in what comes out of the kitchen is of the utmost importance to Grittner, while a fine compliment of adult beverage options has tailored to the restaurant’s wide client base.
“One of the biggest things we pride ourselves on is consistency,” said Grittner. “People won’t come back if you’re not consistent. Whether it’s the service, talking to customers or the kitchen, we try to bring that to the highest standard.”
Johnny Luke’s recently began offering an $8 “Pick Two” Small Plate Lunch Menu in addition to its regular menu. It’s available Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. The latest move to garner additional lunch time business has already seen dividends after launching the special to ring in the New Year.
Outside the walls of the business, Johnny Luke’s hopes to soon build off its reputation of accommodating large crowds by marketing its ability to cater big events. Incorporating social media in the way they market their business has also helped the locally owned establishment take off.
Whether you’re stopping in for Sunday brunch or moseying up to one of Johnny Luke’s two contemporary bars to enjoy a variety of elixirs and wide selection of eclectic vino, a growing base looks to have helped turn a location once a graveyard for businesses into a bright future moving into year two of operation.
“We’re in this for the long run,” Jackson said. “Everyone wants to busy right out of the shoot, but I think the silver lining of building business is having the ability to fine tune everything we do to make sure we’re consistent.”
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