Vivian Howard restaurant could lead the way for new ‘warehouse district’ near Greenfield Lake

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Vivian Howard is branching out from her Kinston restaurants to Wilmington. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Vivian Howard is branching out from her Kinston restaurants to Wilmington. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — Chef Vivian Howard’s new restaurant, Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, will anchor a major commercial development by Greenfield Lake. Developers hope it will become a new facet of Wilmington’s downtown.

“All the great southern cities have warehouse districts,” said Terry Espy, president of MoMentum Companies. “Charleston has one, Asheville has one. I think it’s time for Wilmington to have one.”

The plans for the warehouse district, a commercial plan for restaurants and office space, was unveiled during Chef Howard’s talk at WILMA’s Women to Watch Leadership Initiative luncheon earlier this week. Howard, known for her restaurant Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, said the new restaurant will focus on Italian food, including pizza cooked in two wood-fired grills.

Though the cuisine might be Italian, customers can expect Howard to uphold her dedication to locally sourced ingredients. Howard and her husband and business partner Ben Knight plan to open the 3,700 square-foot space in fall.

Chef Howard said Benny's Big Time Pizzeria is named for her husband and business partner - Ben - and the nickname given the chef by her father - 'big time.' (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
Chef Howard said Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria is named for her husband and business partner – Ben – and the nickname given the chef by her father – ‘big time.’ (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

Also in the early planning stages for the development is a coffee and pastry shop, helmed by Lydia Clopton. After serving as pastry chef for Pinpoint restaurant since it opened two years ago, Clopton said she was in the final weeks of ironing out the details of the space.

The area south of the South Front Apartments has been largely abandoned for some time, with the Satellite Bar – which opened in 2009 – one of the few businesses in the area. Espy said the underutilized space has languished for far too long.

“For a long time, development has looked out away from the downtown, to Mayfair, to midtown and Porter’s neck,” Espy said. “We have such a vibrant and beautiful downtown that we haven’t really paid attention to.”

The southern part of downtown has not seen the same level of investment as the Brooklyn Arts District and the northern waterfront, Espy said.

“The downtown area is beautiful, its historic,” she said. “We’d love to see this as part of the area continuing to grow.”

Espy said additional plans for the commercial development could include co-working spaces, saying, “I guess I’ll going to have to head up to Raleigh and round up some tech guys.”

The warehouse renovations at the southern end of 2nd St. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)
The warehouse renovations at the southern end of 2nd St. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)