WILMINGTON — When Molly and Brendan Curnyn started ChesseSmith in 2018, it was out of a 135-square-foot food truck. As of Sunday, the couple officially will transform the concept into its first brick-and-mortar in The Cargo District. The Curnyns were drawn to the area immediately when they found out the space at the corner of 17th and Queen streets was open.
“It’s our favorite part of Wilmington,” Molly said. “Both of us always gravitate towards the alternative part of a city that isn’t the main tourist destination: West Asheville instead of downtown Asheville, Wynwood arts district instead of downtown Miami, North Park in San Diego instead of the popular downtown Gaslight district. The Cargo District fits right into that — unique businesses in an area that just feels really good to be in.”
While the district is known for repurposing small shipping containers into commercial businesses, the Curnyn’s CheeseSmith is a 2,500 square-foot brick restaurant. Much to their delight, it’s filled with better amenities, including larger griddles in the kitchen and central A/C.
“I can remember one summer working on the truck and it was 135 degrees,” Molly recalled Thursday evening during the restaurant’s soft opening. “I had to change my shirt three times that day.”
The new situation has them cooling off and spreading out more. The building contains a separated kitchen and prep area, as well as office space and a large dining area.
“The day we realized our office has more square footage than our entire previous business was a humbling day,” Molly said.
The building, located at 624 S 17th St., has undergone renovations. It’s painted all white, the signature color of all buildings in The Cargo District. The Curnyns removed the drop ceilings and insulation to give it a modern industrial look. They also redid the flooring.
“You can see the brick pattern under the concrete and we absolutely loved that,” Molly said, “with the little peaks of red brick in spots. Lots of white and matte black paint gave the space an instant facelift, inside and out.”
A custom, penny-tile bar face that Brendan and Molly did themselves has the restaurant’s name designed into it. The couple also expanded black resin-filled countertops for folks to dine at, in addition to adding communal seating: eight-tops, four-tops and two-tops alike. More individual bar seating aligns the windows and there are outdoor tables.
“We’ll be adding an outdoor patio and eventually a garage door that opens the restaurant to that space,” Molly said.
Unlike the food truck’s limited storage, which also constrained them with limited product, the Curnyns have more room to work with higher volume. During the first two hours of the soft opening, staff said the restaurant had churned out 50 tickets with multiple orders per ticket — easily 100 or so items delivered without delays.
The CheeseSmith menu consists of fan favorites from the truck — like the Buffalo Baby (havarti, pulled Buffalo chicken, housemade ranch, quick-pickled carrot and celery slaw) and Southern Charm (cheddar, hickory-smoked pulled prok, pickled red onion and coleslaw). Sides include French fries, loaded or Parmesan-dusted, and sliced watermelon with sea salt. Desserts, like salted-caramel banana pudding and Key lime pie, will change according to what suits Molly’s fancy for the week.
“I love taking old-school classics and elevating them,” she said.
It’s how CheeseSmith hit a homerun with fans out of the gate. The Curnyns made a homemade tomato jam, added it to a standard grilled cheese, filled with American and cheddar, smashed between two buttered slices of bread, and offered a punch of new flavor to much fanfare. The OG took off with customers and appears on the menu still.
“We’ll start selling our tomato jam, which our customers have been asking for since the start of CheeseSmith,” Molly said.
They’ll also be making other unique condiments, such as a rose mayo and house giardiniera (spicy Italian relish, made with pickled mixed vegetables). Molly said it will be used on the new line of cold sandwiches that CheeseSmith will be adding to the menu eventually.
“After losing one of our favorite sandwich places in town, Detour Deli, we felt obligated to do some cold sandwiches,” she said. “We’ll be doing some fun things with what we love to eat, like banh mis, mortadella, burrata, and crusty bread.”
Vegan options are available at CheeseSmith, too, and other hot sandwiches that were a hit on the truck will make an appearance on the menu, including the bulgogi cheesesteak. The restaurant will have a brunch menu on Sundays, including prosecco on tap, not to mention they’ll serve six local beers. Waterline’s Kolsch and Wilmington Brewing Company’s Tropical Lightning IPA will be mainstays.
“The other four beer taps will rotate local beers,” Molly said. “There’s so much great beer in this town, we’ll most likely be adding more taps because it’s honestly hard to choose. We’ll also carry a selection of local and non-local cans of beer, cider, and seltzers.”
Attached to the CheeseSmith building are two additional spaces, both 700 square feet each, which the Curnyns are considering as subleases. Even more intriguing, they’re deciding whether to launch a different concept of their own in the space.
“We can’t say we don’t have a couple more business ideas in mind, including another CheeseSmith location (eventually),” Molly said. “We love good food, and we love sharing it with people.”
CheeseSmith will open Sunday, July 25, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Operating hours thereafter are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., until more staff is hired. Then the restaurant will extend hours until 9 p.m.
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