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Monday, May 27, 2024

Port City Small Bites: new food truck, new bar, two closings

The Vibe, a cocktail lounge and music venue, will be opening in the Cotton Exchange by early summer. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Lots of movement happens around the Port City when it comes to restaurants, food trucks, bars and bottle shops, not to mention organizational and nonprofit foodie events and festivals. While Port City Daily already covers most of this news, “Small Bites” offers another way for readers to stay in the know.

READ MORE: Catch up on other food news of the week

PCSB unveils newsworthy tidbits, whether it’s smaller shifts and changes to local menus, or expansions of existing establishments, temporary closures and renovations, added hours or grand openings, pop-up events and, of course, openings and closings.

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The Vibe brings speakeasy feel to the Cotton Exchange

A husband-and-wife team — one in the trucking business, the other in the dental industry — will be transforming a historic space in the Cotton Exchange into a modern speakeasy. Bobby and Robin Brown will launch The Vibe Music and Cocktail Lounge by early summer.

The lounge will tip its hat to the ‘20s and ‘30s era of the 20th century, featuring live music and specialty drinks aplenty.

“We want it to feel like you are sitting in a living room,” Bobby Brown explained, noting retro plush chairs and couches will welcome visitors.

The Vibe will be located between the German Café and the Olde Wilmington Toy and Candy Company, on the riverside of the Cotton Exchange. Brown said they were searching for the right space for more than a year with Drew Espy of Momentum Companies. Most importantly, they wanted to be in the heart of downtown.

“We want to bring a different dynamic to the building that hasn’t been there before,” said Brown, a member of the Downtown Business Alliance.

The Cotton Exchange consists of over 15 retail shops and five restaurants, as well as Momentum Distillery which officially opened over Azalea Festival. Otherwise, The Vibe will be the only stand-alone bar operating in the exchange – which over a century ago had a three-story saloon on the premises in the Dahnhardt Building in the late 1800s.

“We love the history of the building,” Brown said.

The 1,600-square-foot business has some upfit, including tearing down walls erected to fit the model of its former tenant, an escape room. The Browns want to expose the original brick and hired Clay Buck Building and Design to help with construction. The bar will be custom-built. They’re also sound-proofing the space for when live music is booked. 

“That is the heart and soul of this business venture from the beginning,” Brown said. “We initially wanted to start a mid-size music venue, but we are starting out on a smaller scale and plan to build upon this to eventually open a second location for touring bands.”

He suspects the next operation is a few years down the road. 

The Vibe will maintain a quaint appeal — no food, just craft cocktails, featuring as many local products as possible. It also will heavily feature bourbon.

“We have a very established bartender who has been working in this industry for many years helping us with the menu,” Brown detailed, though mum on revealing whom.

The inventory will consist of spirits from local distilleries and across the globe. He said the menu will change seasonally, sometimes even monthly: “We want our staff to be creative.” 

The Vibe will have a small coterie of wine and hard seltzers, as well as beer with rotating taps. Drafts will consist of Wilmington brews.

Originally from Raleigh, the Browns moved to town four years ago. Family vacations were often enjoyed here throughout the years, Brown confirmed. When his job allowed a transfer to the region, he said he couldn’t pass the chance: “We knew that this is where we wanted to start our business. Culture means a lot to us, and Wilmington has the culture we were looking for.”

Port City Chop House closed last week after operating for over two decades in Landfall Park. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Port City Chop House closes

For two decades, the Port City Chop House has been a staple on Wilmington’s culinary scene. For years, it was the only fine-dining steak house option in town. The restaurant officially announced on its social media that it has closed its doors in Landfall Park, 1981 Eastwood Rd.

In a post, the restaurant group noted: “The pandemic has had an insurmountable effect on our business and we were forced to sell the property.”

According to WECT, a real estate group took over the property.

Any one with gift cards, the restaurant group said, can redeem at one of the other locations, including in Morrisville and High Point, N.C.

Eastside food truck rolling out toasted sammies

Another husband-and-wife team, Laura and Jamie Johnson, has been wanting to launch a sandwich spot since moving to Wilmington from Colorado four years ago. They almost were set to go into a brick-and-mortar near Wrightsville Beach. Then the location fell through — twice.

“So we decided to take that as a sign,” Laura Johnson said. “Last fall, we found a 16-foot trailer and started working on it.”

Johnson has always had a love for sandwiches — specifically toasted ones. “And there isn’t a food truck in town that really does them,” she said. “There is just something about the crusty outside and chewy middle; it’s perfect.”

The Johnsons will offer Eastside handhelds on one type of sub roll — likely white — and will have one gluten-free option. They’ll be slicing their own meats and using higher end, organic ingredients to elevate the sandwiches. 

Each sandwich will have a choice of homemade sauces and spreads. A spicy mustard will be concocted out of hand-ground mustard seeds, horseradish and vinegar, Johnson said: “It’s time-consuming but worth it.”

A red wine-vinegar dressing will top them, too. 

Johnson envisions a menu of no more than 12 items — six sandwiches, three appetizers and three salads. Sammies will include an Italian, BLT, turkey and brie, among others. 

“We are still working out the menu,” she said.

Plus, they will have a charcuterie snack, homemade pimento cheese, and a seasonal salad that will switch out frequently.

“The first will have apples, bacon, and our homemade hot-honey vinaigrette drizzled on top,” Johnson said. She has sussed out prices to start around $9.

The Johnsons currently work in the restaurant industry, but this will be their first local venture. They will run Eastside on weekends while also maintaining their day jobs at Savorez (Laura) and Mac’s Speed Shop (Jamie).

Johnson said she already has started booking at local breweries: “We hope to do caterings for business lunches as well.”

The goal is to be up and running by June.

Thai Peppers owners retire

After serving the coastal sleepy town of Southport since the early ‘90s, Thai Peppers announced it will close shop at 115 E. Moore St.

The restaurant’s last day is Apr. 30, as the owners have decided to retire. Thai Peppers has been operating as takeout only since the pandemic. 

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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