Pleasure Island’s Chowder Cook-Off has served its final sample

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CAROLINA BEACH — One of Pleasure Island’s premier food events is coming to an end. The annual Chowder Cook-Off will no longer be held. But there will still be a spring culinary event.

“It is with a sense of pride, remembrance and sorrow that, after 20 great years, the Pleasure Island Chowder Cook-Off has officially come to an end,” the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce posted to its Facebook page on Tuesday.

Executive Director Greg Reynolds said a combination of factors led to the competition’s end, including the cost of seafood, a lack of restaurant participation and the event’s own success. Since the Azalea Festival changed its date to the same weekend, locals who want to avoid the crowds in downtown Wilmington have been flocking to Carolina Beach for the event. Competing takes staff away from the brick-and-mortar businesses.

“The restaurants are getting too busy,” Reynolds said. “I had one restaurant tell me it would be easier to just be a sponsor than to compete because the restaurant was so busy.”

At least some of the reticence on restaurant’s part maybe frustration, as well, he noted. Prior to winning an international chowder competition for several year’s Michael’s had won the island contest for five year’s straight. After that restaurant bowed out of the competition, Havana’s won for six straight years. Some restaurant’s felt the exposure gained versus the cost of seafood was not worth participating.

“There was a combination of items,” Reynolds said. “Some of it was our own success — the progress we had made. But, mostly it was the cost of seafood. The restaurants just felt like the exposure they were receiving was not worth the cost.”

But, while Reynolds said the chamber’s board is sad to see the event run its course, a large amount of optimism remains. Primarily because, there is still interest in a spring event. It, like has been done for the summer beach music series, simply needs to be re-tooled.

“A few years ago, we thought the music series was dead, but with some minor tweaking it has become a big success,” he said. “Sometimes, events just need to be re-tooled a little. I think last year we saw the writing on the wall. It just wasn’t clicking, so it was time to retool it.”

In that regard, Reynolds said the chamber’s Board of Directors will meet to discuss a new spring event for next year.

“There will be a springtime culinary event,” he said. “We said, ‘let’s not rush it. Let’s get with the restaurants and see what event they want that will support them.’ Our job as a chamber is to get people across that bridge.

“It wasn’t a lack of customers, it was a lack of participants,” he said. “We still want to do a spring event that will showcase the restaurants of Southeast North Carolina. We know the interest is still there, we just need to find what works for our restaurants.”

And there’s one more reason people are not too sad the event is being canceled: This year’s replacement is already set to go.

The annual Seafood and Jazz Festival, which typically takes place in fall, became a victim of Hurricane Matthew last October. Though this fall’s festival is still a go, the 2016 is still being held, as well, in April.

“It’s basically the same event (as scheduled for October). We were able to get 12 of the 14 bands, so this is a reschedule,” he said.

The first ever Spring Pleasure Island Seafood Blues and Jazz Festival will be held at the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area in Kure Beach on Sunday, April 23.

The festival is set to include two stages with 12 bands, crafters, artists, beer and wine, as well as face painting and laser tag for children. The inaugural spring festival will feature headliners Jonny Lang and Samantha Fish.

More information can be found on the Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce website, under the “Event’s” page. Tickets are $50, before fees, and can be purchased directly through Eventbrite.