Friday, April 12, 2024

Small Bites: Indochine Express to open on Oleander, Mon Ame wine shop to close, foodie fundraisers

Indochine Express will open on Oleander Drive in three weeks. (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.

Port City Small Bites 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.

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Indochine Express to open in front of Independence Mall

Solange “Niki” Thompson’s plan was to have the third Indochine Express operating in Leland by mid-July. However, when it comes to opening multiple restaurants simultaneously, things can easily change. 

In three weeks, another express in Wilmington will serve customers at 3608 Oleander Dr. The founder of the Indochine restaurant group, which includes Cafe Chinois, said she signed the lease three months ago, when the former Asian’s Best closed.

“I looked up and down on Oleander and there was no place to eat lunch that was Asian, except in the food court in the mall,” Thompson said.

While Leland’s location is still moving forward — slated to open in about 90 days, Thompson said — the Wilmington location was more restaurant-ready. Situated in front of Independence Mall — next door to Firehouse Subs — Indochine Express is undergoing renovations so its aesthetic will mirror the other expresses, including Monkey Junction and the recently opened Southport location. 

READ MORE: Indochine Express opens in Southport next week, Leland by summer

Colorful, eclectic, adorned with Thompson’s one-of-a-kind Asian artifacts and pieces from her art collection, the satellite restaurants are mini versions of the flagship eatery on Wayne Drive. Yet, they’re designed for quicker takeout and delivery, the latter overseen by Indochine operations, not a third party, for a flat $5 fee. 

Oleander Drive’s location will be able to seat 20 people indoors as well, Thompson said. She added an entrance from the back of the restaurant to appeal to customers shopping in the vicinity. They will be able to access the restaurant more readily from the mall parking lot, rather than have to drive onto Oleander to park in front of the strip mall.

The express will have beer and wine permits. Lunch specials start at $9.95, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Entrees include Thai curries and Indochine’s signature chef creations, like Happy Asian Medley, as well as traditional appetizers, soups and salads, plus sweets. 

“I expect we will sell a lot of our Vietnamese pho in that spot,” Thompson predicted.

Mon Ame Wine and Chocolate will close at the end of August. (Courtesy photo)

Mon Ame Chocolate and Wine Bar downtown to close

“The margins on running a retail wine shop are tough in a small place — a little more than expected, especially without food or other amenities,” Andrew Bopes told Port City Daily. 

Bopes is a lifer in the food and beverage industry and worked in fine dining and local bars for years before launching his wine shop, Mon Ame Chocolate and Wine Bar at 19 S. Second St. in 2018. Bopes’ vast knowledge of vino, paired with the sales of his handmade chocolates, as well as live music and art shows, gave the downtown establishment a boutique flair.

While the first two years were off to a solid start, in 2020 Covid hit and changed everything.

“The last two years were terrible,” Bopes said, forthright, “having to put everything I had saved up back into the business to be able to pay the bills and keep the doors open.”

He squirreled away enough money to make changes that would allow him to serve the wine in glassware, something he had to save up for in order to properly follow health department regulations. Instead, he had to utilize the funds in other ways just to keep the lights on.

“That money helped keep me afloat during Covid but put me back to square one,” Bopes said.

To add to the pressure, Mon Ame didn’t receive grant money — though Bopes applied — and the SBA’s paycheck protection funds, he said, “wouldn’t have done anything with how the business is structured.”

Therefore, he carried the burden solely and financially. He offered discounts on wines, started offering curbside pickup and doing deliveries during Covid, launched a new website to put more focus on online sales, created virtual tasting events, and basically pivoted and shifted frequently as needed. 

“Along with making the chocolates, bookkeeping, bartending, ordering and all the other hats I wear as a small business owner — I didn’t have a team to delegate to — my quality of life came under question,” Bopes said.

After some soul-searching and discussing options with friends in the industry, he decided to close the shop. It will be operational through the end of August and during the next six weeks, Bopes will be liquidating inventory and equipment.

“We still have about 200 different wines available,” he said. 

Mon Ame is offering 15% off all wines and is also making deals on larger quantity purchases. He has planned parties over the next two weekends to offload inventory. This Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., there will be $3 glasses of rosé served all day with deep discounts on bottles. The following Saturday will be a bubbles party from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., offering $3 glasses of fizz and more discounts on bottles.

He also will have chocolates available for sale, including his four flagship flavors: salted caramel, bourbon, Aztec and mocha — the latter made with Folks Cafe coffee. The chocolates are all vegan and organic, “sustainably sourced and blended specifically to bring out a natural fruitiness in the cacao that helps to pair with wine.”

Bopes took an interest in learning the art form under pastry chef Rebeca Alvarado-Parades, who trained him during his time working for manna in downtown Wilmington.

The chocolatier said he may continue to sell Mon Ame’s sweets to other retailers after the brick and mortar officially closes: “It’s why I’m not selling the business and just liquidating current stock.”

As for what could take its place, Bopes said a few options are on the table.

“There’s a couple people in talks with my landlords right now, and if either of them get it, it will be a good thing,” he said.

Chocolate chili cookies will be part of the Bans off Our Bodies Bake Sale for Reproductive Care, a fundraiser for Carolina Abortion Fund taking place Sunday at The Starling. (Photo by Matthew Ray Photography)

Bakers for women’s rights

In light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, numerous area bakers are banding together to raise money for a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive health decisions. 

Baker Keala Yu, who works at Salt + Charm, spearheaded Bans Off Our Bodies Bake Sale for Reproductive Care — an event taking place at The Starling Whiskey Bar in the Cargo District on July 17.

Yu said she decided to host the fundraiser after following Bakers Against Racism online, an organization that encourages individuals to stand up for causes they support. 

“They inspire other bakers and chefs to host their own bake sales as they feel called,” Yu explained. “I just wanted to make some kind of difference with what I do every day, to raise money to help women who may need to travel to get reproductive care that they cannot get where they live.”

North Carolina currently allows abortions up to 26 weeks and Gov. Cooper signed an executive order last week strengthening protections for patients seeking care in the Tar Heel state, as well as doctors and nurses who treat them.

READ MORE: Cooper signs off on protecting women who travel into NC for abortion

For the fundraiser, Yu began reaching out to area businesses, specifically bakers and pastry chefs — The Green House, Wilmington Bread Company, Little Loaf Bakery and School House, Pink Baking Co. — to gauge interest in pooling their talents to make 1,000 baked goods to offer the community on a donation basis. 

“We’re just baking as much as we can and are hoping to sell out,” Yu said. “We’re doing about 50 of everything.”

Items include a variety of cookies — Fruity Pebbles, chocolate chili, brown butter chocolate chip — as well as mini tomato pies, zucchini-cheddar muffins, spinach-feta hand pies, oatmeal cream pies and macarons. 

“There also will be vegan options,” Yu said, noting pink-pepper lemon muffins, chocolate cake truffles, mini fruit galettes, as well as more cookies and cakes. 

All proceeds will benefit the Carolina Abortion Fund and Planned Parenthood.

So far Yu said over $700 has come in via Venmo from people who can’t make it out Sunday. (Supporters can donate here for Yu to keep tally of the event’s fundraising efforts or through each cause personally).

The organizer doesn’t necessarily have a goal in mind on how much she would like to fundraise, but the support she has already received, even from businesses that have donated raffle prizes, has been rewarding, she indicated.

Patrons will have an opportunity to win one of two prize packages featuring gift cards — Seabird, Modern Legend, Cargo District businesses — and items like jewelry, T-shirts and more from makers and other businesses. Tickets are a suggested donation of $5 each.

There also will be a specialty cocktail and pink lemonade, plus a list of wines created by all-female companies available from The Starling.

The event takes place at 1612 Queen St. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 17.

All month LM restaurants will have a special cocktail made with Dutch brand Ketel One’s botanical peach and orange blossom vodka, peach liqueur, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and fresh mint for $12, with all proceeds donated to WCK. (Courtesy photo)

NC restaurant group focuses on World Central Kitchen

Another area business is hoping to make an impact for the greater good. LM Restaurants, which operates Carolina Ale House, Oceanic Restaurant, Hops Supply Company and Bluewater in the area, has a goal to raise $100,000 by the end of July for national nonprofit World Central Kitchen. 

WCK was founded by celebrity chef José Andres in 2010 and sends teams of chefs into areas of crises — hurricanes, tornadoes, war zones — to ensure people in need are properly fed with a hot meal. Currently, WCK is set up in the Ukraine and even survived a Russian missile strike in April, which left four people wounded.

LM’s fundraising efforts kicked off June 23 and raised $10,000 at a dinner hosted at its Vidrio restaurant in Raleigh. LM runs 10 signature brands across 29 restaurants in the state.

“We are excited for all of our restaurants to come together in a company-wide fundraising effort to support the people of Ukraine,” Vidrio owner Lou Moshakos said in a press release. “We fully support and admire the work of World Central Kitchen, especially in Ukraine and the surrounding countries. Together, we can significantly impact our global community through food and hospitality.”

All month LM restaurants will have a special cocktail made with Dutch brand Ketel One’s botanical peach and orange blossom vodka, peach liqueur, fresh lemon juice, housemade simple syrup and fresh mint for $12, with all proceeds donated to WCK.

As well, LM is hosting special fundraising events, including one at Oceanic on July 21,  6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The Sunset Soiree will take place at Crystal Pier and will include live music, hors d’oeuvres and a reception cocktail. Tickets are $45 with all proceeds donated to WCK.

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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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