WILMINGTON — Launching a restaurant from Raleigh isn’t an easy task, but Lauren and Heather Rhodes are making it work, at least until they find a home to purchase to make their Wilmington move official.
“We actually just put in an offer on a house, which is exciting,” Lauren said. “The market has not been super fun to work with.”
Lauren will leave her position as an assistant principal to become an instructional coach at Myrtle Grove Middle School. In her downtime, she will help her wife, Heather, who has had a lifelong career in the restaurant industry, to renovate the former Rolled & Baked into Castle Street Kitchen. The two hope to open the casual lunch and dinner spot by the end of October or beginning of November.
Though the Rhodes had been looking for a restaurant to purchase in Raleigh, the community-driven vibe of the Castle Street District and having family already in town convinced them to relocate. Lauren said she was drawn to the 509 Castle St. listing upon seeing pictures of how open the space was.
“It’s super unique and eclectic — exactly what we were looking for, kind of mid-century,” she said. “When we drove down to look at it, we got there probably 30 minutes early and immediately loved the mural for Black Lives Matter, with an awesome little antique store next door, and we went to Luna Caffé for coffee; it just was a great community feel. And that’s exactly what we want.”
The two contacted the muralist, Jason Lee Parker, to devise a collaborative piece for one of the walls that will incorporate the Castle Street Kitchen logo. The ladies want to keep the integrity of the building’s retro vibe and will incorporate teal and other blues, neon yellow, purple, gold and brass into the color palette.
“We’re still kind of playing around with it,” Heather said.
“The biggest obstacle for us right now is just not being there,” Lauren added. “You know, we’re traveling down as often as we can and going on the weekends, and my brother-in-law is helping us as much as he can.”
Heather has devised a classic American menu with Southern staples, like an heirloom tomato pie featuring oven-roasted and fresh heirlooms, an herbed mascarpone blend, and caramelized onions in a flaky crust, to be served with a buttermilk biscuit.
Burgers will be offered but will be kicked up a notch, featuring unique toppings like a homemade tomato-onion jam.
“I’ve made a peanut butter bacon-brittle burger before,” Heather said.
Whether it makes it on the menu is unknown — “perhaps as a special one day.” But her chile crunch burger will be smothered in pepper Jack cheese, ancho chile aioli, charred corn relish, and crispy chips.
Weekend brunches will feature BLT waffle sandwiches and a crab cake sandwich. “We’re definitely going to throw a little bit of seafood on there, since we’re now at the beach,” Heather added. “But we won’t be a seafood restaurant.”
Homemade desserts possibly will come as a collaboration with a local bakery in town. “I want it to be tailored to what people want down there,” Heather said.
TVs will be spaced throughout for folks to catch the games (though it will not be a sports bar, the restaurateurs clarified) and a room tucked away in the back presents myriad options. They’re toying with the inclusion of a few pinball machines and using it as a separate area for people to chill and enjoy a cocktail while waiting for a table.
“We haven’t decided what it will be yet,” Lauren said.
It opens the possibility of hosting pop-ups, whether for local artists or even nonprofit organizations. The ladies adopted their three dogs and have a soft spot for animal rescues.
“I would love to dedicate a morning where we have some foster pups come out on the porch for a couple hours,” Lauren said. “We want people to walk in and remember us not only for the food but for the experience.”
Lauren will help out with community outreach and as needed at the restaurant when she isn’t holding down her day job. Heather, already part owner of another restaurant in Raleigh, will be running the show on Castle Street full-time.
“This is Heather’s dream, for sure,” Lauren said. “So she will be the main owner and operator, and I’ll just be helping out wherever I can.”
Heather said she plans to hire up to 12 people at Castle Street Kitchen as the opening nears; the restaurant will operate daily except Mondays.
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