WILMINGTON — Covid-19 has changed the way many industries operate, restaurants included. James and Sarah Doss can attest to this firsthand.
Like other restaurateurs, they closed and reopened their Castle Street eatery, Rx, numerous times throughout the pandemic — due to both virus spread and health of staff and shutdown and protocol mandates. The Dosses said adapting Rx food to takeout wasn’t something easily approachable, seeing as the menu leaned more toward fine-dining.
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“It really illuminated the challenges of our industry and our long-term sustainability,” Sarah said.
While the struggles haven’t been easy, they have provided space for reflection, which have guided the Dosses toward rebranding their Southern restaurant. Enter Rx Chicken and Oysters, slated to reopen by December, if all goes according to plan (currently, it’s a location for locally filmed “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat”).
“What we’re changing to is a little more of our original vision when we arrived,” James said.
All flavors will remain seasonal, with the core menu rotating four times a year; previously, it switched daily. The restaurant is amping up its fried chicken menu, too, adding buckets that feature whole birds from Hampstead’s Changin’ Ways Farms.
The idea is to reach all diners and price points, Sarah said: “We will have things that are on the higher end, too, so it’s kind of like a customer’s choice.”
In July, Rx celebrated a decade serving Wilmingtonians, though the restaurant has been closed since February. The Dosses have been concentrating on renovations and mapping out changes.
Covid-19 isn’t completely done with the industry either, as seen by rising inflation and supply-chain issues. An electrical panel needed for the kitchen is not expected to arrive until mid-November, the owners indicated. The kitchen is being transformed to become more energy efficient, with solar panels installed and appliances changing from electric to gas.
“It’s really about going green,” Sarah said.
Their newly launched oyster farming business also adds to that goal.
“One oyster filters 50 gallons of water every day,” Sarah said. “That’s really important to us.”
The Dosses are subleasing half-an-acre in Topsail and a full acre in Stump Sound to harvest the oysters. ”We seeded 500,000 this spring,” James said.
The restaurateurs established an apprenticeship under James Hargrove of Middle Sound Mariculture, learning the ins and outs of the industry. Their first batch — which will likely produce 60% of what was planted — won’t be ready until next year, they estimate. The long-term goal is to sell the oysters in the restaurant but also wholesale.
The couple also began harvesting clams, which James said have been hard to come by locally. They have planted 30,000 on the same acreage.
“We still plan on buying from local fishermen,” Sarah said. “Because we also plan to have more seafood on the menu. We have become a bit more connected with some of our local shellfish growers and fishermen since farming.”
Rx Chicken and Oysters will have a menu of tacos — both fish and pulled pork — and more sandwiches, including a Crystal Coast shrimp or oyster burger (fried shellfish piled with homemade coleslaw and ketchup).
“Everytime we go to Morehead that’s our first stop in and our last stop out,” Sarah said.
A raw bar section will feature Rx’s Lucy Beas oysters (named after the owners’ dogs), which James said will also allow for more price control. “I’ve seen some oysters go up to $5 apiece at restaurants,” he said. “We are thinking $2 or $2.50 apiece and we will have a happy hour.”
The restaurant’s staples will still be served, such as the wings and the chili cheeseburger, once only offered during weekend brunch but soon to be available daily. Specials will rotate, including barbecue and the famed pig ears appetizer.
High-quality local ingredients will be the base of every dish, also to be carried into another outpost of the brand: Rx Brewstillery.
Located next to the restaurant is a home the Dosses purchased to become the tasting room and maker space of both craft beer and spirits. They have enlisted the help of their employees to run the operation, including Trae Wheeler, who is training to become the brewmaster, and Sarah Wiland, who is finishing up her biology degree at UNCW, to focus on the distillery side.
Gin, vodka, moonshine and liqueurs will be made, while the brewery will start off with a light pale ale, Kolsch, pilsner, stout, sour and IPA. But the Dosses don’t expect first-batch releases to come until a year or so down the road.
“We’re going to ease into it,” Sarah said.
The long-term vision is to go into distribution and wholesale.
“We’re just diversifying the business,” James added, “and really getting back to our roots, to something that’s just a little bit more fun.”
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