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Monday, May 27, 2024

Shaka Taco, beer garden coming to Hampstead golf course

Ironclad Golf is adding a restaurant, Shaka Taco, and expanded 30,000-square-foot beer garden on its premises. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

HAMPSTEAD — The marriage of golf and beer seemed like a natural union when Ted Coughlin transformed Hampstead’s old Belvedere golf course into Ironclad Golf a year-and-a-half ago. Now, he’s throwing tacos into the mix.

In 2020, when Coughlin purchased 176 acres of greens, he envisioned it as a premiere outdoor entertainment complex in Pender County, outfitted with golf, a beer garden, restaurant, food trucks, live entertainment and more.

He and his team — Ironclad’s vice president, Brandon Noel, and superintendent David Bullard — first opened the driving range in 2020, with food trucks and a beer shack serving Ironclad brews (Coughlin owns downtown Wilmington’s Ironclad Brewery, which opened in 2015). Thereafter, they finished the front nine holes and had the back nine opened by spring 2021.

READ MORE: Wilmington’s Ironclad Brewery saves old Belvedere golf course in Hampstead from development

By the end of this spring, another renovation will be complete as part of the vision for Ironclad Golf: It will get its first restaurant. Shaka Taco owners Cody Leutgens and Steve Christian are taking over the former Belvedere sandwich shop, located next to a 30,000-square-foot beer garden under construction.

“It will be one of the largest beer gardens, if not the largest, in North Carolina,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin met Leutgens and Christian while dining at the duo’s Surf City restaurant, which opened in 2017. When the opportunity arose for the teams to pair up, it made sense to the restaurateurs, who said operating on the course “hit home,” as they both grew up in the area.

“I would go to the sandwich shop after school, and a lot of our buddies had their first job in that building,” Christian said.

More importantly, noting the growth of Hampstead, Christian said a need for more dining options in the area was inevitable, not to mention Ironclad Golf’s demographic fit in with the Shaka diner.

“Parents bring their kids, the older generation who love to golf are there, and teenagers located across the street at Topsail High School come,” added Christian, an alum of the high school. “It serves all walks of life.”

Diversifying the golf crowd was at the forefront of Coughlin’s plan from the onset. Before he bought the golf course, he consulted an elementary school friend, Derek Sprague, who once served as president of the PGA of America. Coughlin told Sprague he wanted to move away from the collared shirt and expensive fees normally associated with golf. Instead, he envisioned a laid back, fun experience that could grow with more outdoor sports offerings.

“And Derek told me: ‘No one is doing this yet,’” Coughlin said.

When Coughlin took over Belvedere, Christian said it was “big noise” in the community. Nearby neighbors exhaled that the grounds wouldn’t be sold to developers. Instead, its rundown fairways and greens would find new life after being abandoned and left in disarray from Hurricane Florence.

“It will take us years to get it fully cleaned up,” Coughlin said, saying they’re taking a phased-in approach to reach the full conceptualization of Ironclad Golf.

In its inaugural year, the driving range, course and beer shack served “hundreds upon hundreds of people every Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights,” Coughlin said. Night golf came with glow-in-the-dark targets on the driving range. Fire pits were set up during cold nights. The vibe was a welcoming change among locals in nearby neighborhoods.

Coughlin said Shaka Taco’s local flair and support from regulars fit into the same spirit he wanted to conjure at Ironclad Golf.

“We have a restaurant that’s connected to a surf school that’s across the beach,” Christian said, admitting seeing a lot of familiar faces daily at Shaka Taco. “Now, we’re going to have a restaurant that’s connected to a golf course.”

Shaka Taco owners are renovating the former Belvedere sandwich shop into Ironclad’s onsite restaurant, slated to open by late spring. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

The Shaka Taco building is 1,500 square feet and will have the same coastal vibe as its Surf City business, seating 45 people inside. Next to the restaurant is a more expansive communal beer garden, peppered with picnic tables, strung Edison bulbs, and a stage being constructed to host live entertainment.

Christian said the Shaka Taco menu will be the same as what’s offered in Surf City. Yet, the team has plans to add in a few more appetizers and tacos, including a tuna BLT and a basic Americano.

Plans are to open in about four months for lunch and dinner. Hours at the golf course restaurant will be longer than in Surf City, likely operating until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. Around 50 employees will run the Hampstead location as well, Christian confirmed.

Food trucks will still park on the grounds, Coughlin said, “just not ones serving tacos.” Coughlin estimates the area can hold upward of 600 people, meaning multiple vendors will be a necessity, especially as the entertainment complex reaches the height of tourist season in summer months.

He has begun talking to area craft breweries to set up their taps in the beer garden, to be served alongside Ironclad brews.

“I don’t believe we will be able to make enough beer to fill the need by ourselves,” Coughlin said.

Salty Turtle, another Surf City business, already has expressed interest in securing a place on the menu, and Coughlin is in the process of connecting with other local breweries to serve a variety of southeastern N.C. beer. 

Once the restaurant and beer garden is ready to roll, the Ironclad team will turn their focus on the clubhouse. No plans are solidified, but putting in a cigar bar has been discussed. Also, chatter about having a distillery on the property is ongoing — or, at the very least, teaming up with local distilleries to sell their spirits, in the same vein as the beer garden represents multiple local breweries. 

Thereafter, Coughlin envisions partnering with a hotel or perhaps constructing a bed and breakfast on the property. 

“We’ve already been asked to host events,” he said.

His 11,000-square-foot brewery in downtown Wilmington hosts hundreds of events a year, from weddings and anniversaries, to corporate meetings and other functions. While it’s a business Coughlin already is familiar with, he is in no rush to jump into the same game at Ironclad Golf until the timing is right. 

“We need to ease into operations first,” he said. “And we need a local hotel that people can stay in at night because, right now, there’s nothing close by.”

Outside of golf and the driving range, six pickleball courts already are installed, a  popular amenity serving local leagues and hosting tournaments. Known as the Belvedere Pickleball Center at Ironclad, Coughlin said its operations are run by a third party.

“A local gentleman by the name of Howard — he’s an icon in Hampstead and renovated the tennis and pickleball courts,” Coughlin said.

Disc golf will come eventually and a few other surprises Coughlin is yet to reveal.

“It’s going to be a continual work in progress,” he said.

Part of the 30,000 square foot beer garden is situated beside the restaurant, with a stage being built to host live music. (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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