Thursday, June 20, 2024

More cheese, please. CheeseSmith officially opens in The Cargo District

CheeseSmith will have its grand opening at its new brick and mortar on Sunday, July 25, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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.”

The penny-tile counter face was done by owners Brendan and Molly Curnyn. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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.

The Southern Charm is stacked with cheddar, hickory-smoked pulled pork, pickled red onions and cole slaw. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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.

Click photo to scroll through the gallery or thumb down.

The CheeseSmith building is at the corner of Queen and 17th streets in the Cargo District. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The Maple Bacon is muenster, American, hickory-snoked bacon, maple syrup and pimento cheese. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Owner Molly Curnyn speaks to staff during the soft opening on Thursday. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Not even the fries are safe from cheese. Parmesan-dusted French fries get elevated at CheeseSmith. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Gear is sold at the restaurant and soon their homemade tomato jam will be added to the goods, too. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Local beers are on tap, as will be prosecco, a perfect punch for Sunday brunches. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
The Buffalo Baby comes with havarti, pulled Buffalo chicken, housemade ranch, quick-pickled carrot and celery slaw. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Smith fries are the whole shebang: beer cheese to pour over a bed of fries, topped with pork belly, Smith sauce and green onions. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Save room for dessert, like the salted-caramel banana pudding. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Gourmet grilled cheeses galore are served at CheeseSmith’s new brick and mortar, opening Sunday, July 25. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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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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