WILMINGTON — It’s been eight years since Rooster and Crow owners Zach Harmon and Allen Carpenter began toying with the idea of opening a bar. By summer, their goal will be fulfilled.
After opening a 3,000 square-foot beer garden behind their Southern kitchen in Chandler’s Wharf, the restaurateurs are also taking over the space next door to Rooster and Crow, once home to Hot Mess Art and Pottery Studios.
READ MORE: Catch up on Brews and Bites news
“We haven’t even got the keys yet,” Carpenter said ahead of Saturday’s brunch rush.
Though its name has yet to be decided, the 1,600-square foot bar will fall under the ever-growing Rooster and Crow umbrella. In addition to the 54-seat restaurant, it has an extended dining hall, The Nest, as well as an arcade, Fowl Play. The beer garden opened mere weeks ago.
Its concept has been a part of the entrepreneurs’ plans since opening the eatery in 2019. Carpenter said when they first took over the space, they asked the landlord about freshening up the wooded area behind the wharf, facing Front Street.
“But she did not know us well then and needed a better understanding of what we wanted to do, and to build a business relationship with us,” Carpenter said.
When Covid-19 hit, Harmon and Carpenter said they temporarily abandoned the beer garden idea. Capacity in the restaurant dropped by 50% and, like most in the food industry, they were focused on surviving instead.
“We kind of went into crisis mode,” Carpenter said.
Rooster and Crow is the first restaurant the friends opened after leaving their careers — Carpenter in racetrack management and Harmon in the daycare business. Wilmington beckoned their relocation from the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, and Chandler’s Wharf, with its history — built in 1884 as Calder-Thorpe Warehouse on an acre of land — appealed to them.
“We just fell in love with the space,” Carpenter said.
In retrospect, Harmon said choosing the location — after traveling for months up and down the North Carolina coast — was serendipitous.
“Oddly enough, I just found out the other day, the very first Salvation Army building that was here, essentially, was where my grandmother was born,” he said. “It’s overlooking the little beer garden area and Chandler’s Wharf.”
Despite not having restaurant experience, they leaned into their roots, and friends’ and families’ recipes to guide the menu, including Harmon’s grandma’s secrets. The Rooster and Crow’s famed fried chicken comes from an 85-year-old friend Carpenter knows in Virginia.
“But our intention was always to have a bar and beer-garden-type deal,” he clarified.
Once the business owners were up and running again during the pandemic, they noticed alcohol sales increased. As supply-chain issues and inflation drove up food costs — and payroll and utilities rose — it felt natural to reapproach a model that would stabilize losses.
With the go-ahead from the landlords — the Bullock family that has owned Chandler’s Wharf since the 1980s — Carpenter and Harmon began the design and permitting process with the city planner and Historic Preservation Commission late last summer. They didn’t get the go-ahead until January.
Three weeks ago, the beer garden opened, outfitted with Adirondack chairs and picnic tables, fire pits, a portable bar with four taps, some featuring local brews by Mad Mole, among wine and cocktails. Live music is scheduled weekends and games like giant Connect Four are set up in the space. Eventually, a menu of snacks will be available to order from Rooster and Crow (diners can place take out and enjoy their meals out back currently).
The garden serves as a run-over area for diners to enjoy mimosas and Bloody Marys while awaiting a table — or to visit for an after-brunch or after-dinner cocktail.
Once new bar across the way opens, it will allow the restaurant’s cocktail program to expand overall, Carpenter explained. Inside Rooster and Crow, the restaurant bar has only 11 seats, big enough for one bartender to post up and make all orders coming in from waitstaff.
“There’s only room for so much product,” Carpenter said. “That’s really the reason we wanted the Hot Mess space when we knew it was becoming available. So we thought, ‘Why not make it lounge-y?’”
With a variety of sofas, chairs and bar stools, Harmon explained the aesthetic as “woodsy lounge.”
“‘High-end Saquatch’ is how we’re describing it,” he added with a laugh.
There will be entertainment offered, including trivia and themed nights. Craft cocktails will make up the menu, with a focus on high-end bourbons, whiskeys and tequilas. The bar will stay open until midnight (the beer garden is open Wednesday through Friday, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
Carpenter hopes to open by Memorial Day; however, he is taking a realistic approach, considering delays that inevitably happen with opening a new business.
“When we got the restaurant space in January 2019, we had a plan to open April 1. It took us until May 23,” he said. “But if Memorial Day weekend doesn’t happen, definitely sometime in June.”
Have food and beverage news? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Have tips or comments? Email email@example.com