Tuesday, April 16, 2024

CheeseSmith parks its wheels, begins renovating brick-and-mortar in the Cargo District

Brendan and Molly Curnyn will begin renovating the Nippy’s building in the Cargo District to launch CheeseSmith as a brick-and-mortar restaurant. (Port City Daily/Courtesy CheeseSmith).

WILMINGTON — Most local diners are familiar with the cheesy gourmet handhelds coming out of the CheeseSmith food truck since 2018. Operated by Molly and Brendan Curnyn, the wheels are going to be parked come June. The couple announced today they will become official restaurateurs, as they transform CheeseSmith into a brick-and-mortar in the old Nippy’s Soul Food restaurant located at 624 S. 17th St. in the Cargo District. (Nippy’s isn’t closing but moving to Carolina Beach Road.)

“We both feel that we’ve outgrown the food truck and its capabilities for capacity and efficiency,” Molly wrote to Port City Daily Wednesday. “But when we started having these crazy lines with people telling us they waited for two hours before they got up to the window, we knew the food truck was just hindering our ability to serve more people, faster.”

The Curnyns said the truck allowed them to test-run their concept to much success, for which they’re grateful. But, at the end of the day, they were running out of space all around — for more goods and help.

“We have learned to basically play a game of Tetris to fit as much product in there as possible,” Molly quipped. “And, although we’ll definitely miss going to breweries for work, we’re also very excited to be our own venue and not be limited to only providing the food.”

The Curnyns said the restaurant will have 50 seats inside and 50 outside, and will operate Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

“But we may start our first week or two just doing lunch hours to get in the swing of things,” Molly speculated.

Port City Daily chatted with Molly about making the move into a brick-and-mortar, how it will change CheeseSmith’s output and menu, and the design concept for the upcoming space.

Here’s the scoop.

Port City Daily (PCD): So why the Cargo District?
Molly Curnyn (MC): When we started the food truck in 2018, Coworx in the Cargo District was one of our lunch spots. We both knew from the first time we set up over there that it was something really special and definitely felt the need to be a part of it. There weren’t nearly as many businesses over there at the time, but we absolutely loved the aesthetic of every single detail and the people we met involved in the area. As time went on and awesome business after the next kept popping up we finally realized that couldn’t wait any longer to become a part of it.

PCD: What renovations are being done to Nippy’s to fit your vibe? 
MC: We’re doing a lot of improvements to give the building a fresh look that fits our concept and aesthetic: painting, revealing concrete floors and exposing the ceiling. We’re also going to be concentrating on adding outdoor space, seating wrapped around the building and a patio. 

PCD: What are the aesthetics: color scheme, materials used, decor?
MC: We’re going for an industrial modern look with the decor. The color scheme will easily tie into the vibe of the Cargo District. We love the black and white color palette, with lots of greens from plants in and outside the property.

PCD: How many menu items are you planning to serve? Will it be larger than what you have now?
MC: The menu will feature our most popular sandwiches over the past few years on the food truck, as well as fries and a couple more sides. While we only had room to have four or five sandwiches at a time on the food truck, we’ll be able to do much more at the brick-and-mortar. We’ll also be adding some things we did as specials on the food truck and some cold sandwiches. 

PCD: Has opening a restaurant always been part of the CheeseSmith dream? 
MC: Owning a restaurant has been a goal for us for a very long time. We’re very passionate about food and dining, and it wouldn’t make sense for us to do anything else.

PCD: Tell our readers about your background in the restaurant industry and how CheeseSmith came to be.
MC: Both of us started working in restaurants when we were really young. We went through all the typical restaurant positions, mostly serving tables and bartending, moving around the country from New Jersey to California to Florida. Then we spent six years working as crew on motor yachts; it was a really cool way to do a lot of traveling and we were lucky to see most of the Caribbean and also learn a lot from a hospitality focused industry. Of course we aren’t doing any white glove dinners at CheeseSmith, and I definitely won’t be ironing napkins and folding them into swans, but there are a lot of things it taught us about guest experience that cross over to the fast causal world. 

When we moved to Wilmington, we recognized the opportunity a food truck has here with all the great breweries that don’t serve their own food. We wanted to serve something handheld and delicious that would pair well with beer, and that’s how CheeseSmith was born. 

PCD: Will CheeseSmith still be primarily a casual sandwich shop for lunch and dinner? Or do you envision expanding beyond that?
MC: We hope to add some more things to the menu, like cold sandwiches and salads, but for the most part we’ll be focused on fast, casual sandwiches plus beer and wine in a cool space. 

PCD: Will you run the food truck as well?
MC: [W]e don’t feel like we can run the food truck to its full potential while operating the restaurant, so we plan to sell it.

PCD: Do you have five-year and 10-year plan/vision?
MC: In the upcoming years, we hope to just keep expanding CheeseSmith to more locations — possibly a ghost kitchen just for pickup and delivery. We’ll see! 

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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