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Monday, May 27, 2024

Port City Small Bites: Big Ocean Cider Co., King Neptune lives on

Jimmy Gilleece, owner of Jimmy’s Wrightsville Beach, has taken over King Neptune in Wrightsville Beach. (Courtesy photo)

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: Don’t miss your last chance for Burger Week

Weekly, this column will unveil newsworthy tidbits, from smaller shifts and changes to local menus, expansions of existing establishments, temporary closures and renovations, added hours or grand openings, pop-up events and, of course, openings and closings.

Big flavor, Big Ocean Cider Co.

Flying Machine Brewing Company launched Big Ocean Cider Co. Friday. (Courtesy photo)

Flying Machine Brewing Company is getting into the cider game. The Wilmington facility launched Big Ocean Cider Co. Friday, with its new product sold in FMB taprooms both on Racine Drive and at Wrightsville Beach. Co-owner Grant Steadman said it’s been a part of the business plan from day one.

“We have talked about cider since we first opened the taproom in 2018 and received a ton of requests for a gluten-free option,” he told Port City Daily. 

The team began focusing on those efforts in April 2021. The 5% ABV sipper is a good summertime option with refreshing notes of pear and white grape. 

“It’s not overly sweet but it is flavorful,” Steadman assured. “The flavor comes from the quality of the apples and the choice of the yeast.”

Flying Machine’s director of brewing and cider operations, Erik Peterson, uses American grown apples and chose a dry English cider yeast.  

Steadman said the company has churned out 20 barrels so far and starting next week will distribute to local outlets. The next batch, already in the tank, will be larger.

“The more product we have, the more we will distribute,” he said, with the goal to go into more restaurants, bottle shops and bars in the Cape Fear region. 

Steadman said they also are eyeing distribution into the Triangle. 

More fruit flavors are being experimented with to be rolled out in coming months.  Whether the brewery owners will evolve the brand into a standalone cidery remains to be known.

“Given the high cost of construction or renovation at the moment we have no immediate plans,” Steadman said, “but we certainly haven’t ruled it out for the future.”

Yet, more growth is on horizon. Steadman and his business partner David Sweigart  launched Flying Machine at Wrightsville Beach — the first taproom and combined kitchen — last summer. He said expanding their blueprint locally and across the state is likely.

“We love creating experiences, and taprooms and eateries are the perfect way to do that,” Steadman said. 

Owner of Jimmy’s at Wrightsville Beach to relaunch King Neptune 

A Wrightsville Beach tradition that started in the mid 1940s will continue. 

Jimmy and Keaton Gilleece have taken over 11 N. Lumina Ave., next to their famed bar, Jimmy’s. The iconic King Neptune — which closed last August — will be up and running again by this August, Gilleece confirmed.

“It’s gonna be hard to make three generations of customers happy, but I think if anybody can do it, we can,” Gilleece told Port City Daily.

Gilleece took over operations from Danny and Earl McPherson, brothers who had run King Neptune since 2012. They focused on breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the breakfast and brunch items selling so well, it inspired their other restaurant concept, Brunches, which launched in 2019. Brunches has since taken off, with the brothers operating two locations in Wilmington and a third on the way, plus restaurants coming to the Triangle area, with the goal of having 50 in the franchise by 2025.

READ MORE: King Neptune brothers open Brunches at Mayfaire, second location coming

The McPhersons were working with building owner Reggie Barnes to figure out how to keep the institution alive, though neither confirmed they would be the ones to reopen King Neptune. Earlier this week a new plan fleshed out, as Gilleece announced he officially would carry it forth with his wife and longtime friend and Raleigh chef John Anderson.

“Johnny sold his house and moved down yesterday,” Gilleece said.

It’s the first restaurant Gilleece has owned though he is confident it will reach success between the 70 years of experience he and his partners have in the hospitality industry. The goal is to modernize King Neptune, he said. 

They will spend the summer renovating the dining room and kitchen. Anderson is devising a menu that will be seafood heavy, focusing on fresh and local. 

“Prices are up in the air,” Gilleece said. “Fresh fish is not cheap these days.”

They will work with local purveyors and also feature some of Neptune’s classics. There also will be an upscale cocktail and wine list on the restaurant side.

“It’s going to be a bit nicer, but you will still be able to come off the beach and grab a sandwich,” Gilleece said.

One element that won’t change: the Pirate Lounge next door. It will remain intimate and laid back, a fundamental part of Wrightsville Beach culture, its walls tacked with mementos, its barflies tasked with scoring the most hook-and-ring tosses.  

County proposes adding more health inspectors in new budget

The New Hanover County Commissioners considered a preliminary budget at Monday’s meeting, which included the addition of five environmental health specialists. 

County manager Chris Coudriet told the board the growth of the community has dictated the move. The five new positions are estimated to cost $420,000.

“I know it’s never easy for the board to wrestle with adding in more people,” Coudriet said at the meeting, “but it was easy for me to recommend to you five environmental health specialists to make sure that our restaurants are safe and sanitary, our hotels are clean when our guests stay there but also that our public pools are properly inspected on a daily basis.”

Currently, 12 positions exist within the county, each authorized by the state to conduct inspections. According to county spokesperson Alex Riley, 10 are filled and two are being hired for. The additional roles would help fulfill the uptick in volume the Environmental Health Department is experiencing. 

“We have seen a significant increase in inspection needs for food service, lodging, swimming pools, childcare centers and other institutions that are required to be inspected by our department,” Riley wrote to Port City Daily.

The five additional positions were determined by the Staffing Level Assessment Tool (SLAT) the state uses to assess annual quality assurance expectations for its food licensing and inspection program, Riley further explained.

Almost 2,000 establishments are regulated in the county. Local food and beverage establishments — restaurants, food stands, mobile food units, meat markets, and push carts — require almost 11,000 hours a year from county staff to conduct inspections. 

In total, inspection tasks make up 22,000 hours annually. Environmental health specialists also oversee school lunchrooms, lodging, bed and breakfasts and inns, school buildings, residential cares, limited food stands, nursing homes, rest homes, institution kitchens, local confinements, swimming pools, wading pools, spas, adult day cares and tattoo artists, as well as 15 body piercers. 

The county commissioners will vote on the proposed budget by June.

Peach Cobbler Factory launched a new app that allows customers to order ahead and skip the line for pickup. (Courtesy photo)

Peach Cobbler Factory launches ‘Skip the Line’ on mobile 

Carolina Beach got its first taste of the Peach Cobbler Factory when it opened at 1010 Lake Park Blvd St. on Valentine’s Day. Now, diners can get even quicker service by placing orders on the app or through its website ahead of their visit. Upon arrival, they will be able to skip the line for pickup.

The Peach Cobbler Factory sells 12 flavors of cobbler — blackberry, peach, cherry, apple, sweet potato-pecan, etc. — topped with vanilla ice cream and its magic sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar. The company also serves, aside from the original, five varieties of banana pudding (chocolate chip, Nutella, red velvet, Oreo, strawberry), three flavors of cobbler-stuffed cinnamon rolls (Nutella, choice of cobbler or vanilla-cinnamon) and a specialty strawberry-peach tea. 

The new dessert chain — operated by CEO Greg George who lives on Pleasure Island — has plans to open 50 stores by the end of the year, with the goal of rolling out 200 by 2024. Stores opened in the last month in both Alabama and Ohio.

George and co-owners Vinny Doria and Corey Carter want to launch stores in Leland, downtown Wilmington, Porters Neck, Hampstead, and Jacksonville as well.

“It’s just a matter of time,” George told Port City Daily last December. “There’s never been anything like this ever in this area.”

Morgan’s Seafood opens in Ogden

Earlier in the month, Morgan’s Seafood opened its second location in Ogden within the Publix Shopping Center at 7150 Market St. Suite 100. Owned and operated by Tyler Morgan, the 65-seat fast-casual restaurant specializes in fried and grilled seafood.

“There’s really not any seafood in the general area of Ogden that’s less expensive, your served-on-a-paper-plate kind of place,” Tyler told Port City Daily last year when he announced a second location would be coming. 

Tyler took over his first seafood restaurant at 4023 Market Street when it was Carolina Fish Fry. By November 2021, he had separated from the franchise and rebranded as Morgan’s. 

“As an independent restaurant owner, I will have more freedom to control these decisions and implement customer feedback,” Morgan said. “For one, I also will have more fresh food.”

Flounder, oysters, popcorn or jumbo shrimp, deviled crab, scallops, and clam strips all are offered as platters, sandwiches, salads, as well as snacks and baskets.The restaurant also serves cheeseburgers, barbecue sandwiches and chicken tenders. 

The new Ogden restaurant operates 11 a.m. –  9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Sunday. 

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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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