Monday, November 28, 2022

Port City Small Bites: Tea, spirits, pops

Boballie Tea will open on the riverwalk Nov. 1. (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

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.

Tea, please

The Wilmington riverfront will have its fair share of tea shops opening soon. Two new boba tea operations will launch on opposite ends of downtown.

At 212 S. Water St. in unit 1-I, Boballie Bubble Tea will open by Nov. 1, according to owners Joseph and Diana Crosland. The Croslands moved their family, including three daughters, east from Las Vegas in March 2021. All share a love of the Taiwenese drink.

“One of our favorite things to do after work was take our daughter for boba tea,” Joseph said. “It was quick, it got us out of the house for a while, but most of all we all just really enjoyed spending the time together.”

Upon relocating and realizing at the time only one boba tea shop existed in the area, the Croslands decided to enter the food and beverage industry for the first time.

“My background is in construction management, but I have spent the last 14 years as an entrepreneur building a number of construction-related businesses,” Joseph said, who also purchased a cabinetry company in Wilmington.

His wife Diana, with corporate training and adult education experience, spent almost two decades in online retail. Joseph said she didn’t want to continue corporate work upon uprooting to Wilmington.

“There were many pros to opening a boba shop downtown, the biggest of course being a place where we could also spend time together as a family,” Joseph said. “But it is also a way for us, as transplants, to try and integrate into the community with something fun to offer.” 

They signed the lease of what was formerly a jewelry shop, located on the Riverwalk beside Wilmington Water Tours, and began upfitting the space into a tea shop. It has four seats inside and 12 outside overlooking the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. Boballie will serve 12 flavors of boba tea, five flavored teas, five fresh milk drinks and eight ice blended drinks. 

Flavors run the gamut from lavender to caramel, pina colada to pineapple, to lychee, apple and pear or cucumber, lemongrass and lemon flavored teas. Customers can customize drinks with almost 20 toppings, including boba pearls in tapioca, crystal and mango flavors, as well as jellies including passion fruit, coconut and coffee. 

Boballie Tea Company will operate seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

“We hope to set ourselves apart from the competition by being the friendliest boba tea shop in town,” Joseph said. “We put a lot of thought into our menu with an emphasis on high quality ingredients, but our customer service is where we really want to stand out in the community.”  

On the northern end of downtown at 251 N. Front Street, TAP Tea Bar is opening its third location. It has been operating in Wilmington since 2017 and expanded into the Pointe at Barclay just last year. 

TAP Tea has a variety of specialty flavors, including strawberry shortcake and blueberry muffin, Fruity Pebbles and samoa cookie. It also offers a build-your-own, where customers choose a base (milk tea, frost tea, slush tea or refresher), the kind of tea (black, green, jasmine), and add flavors, toppings and poppers. Scoops of ice cream and “tiger sugar drizzle” can also be added to specialize the sippers.

According to county documents, Urban Building Corp and D.S. Engineering are helping with renovations of the former Dr. Arnold Sobol’s optometrist office. The tea shop will be located next to Old Books on Front Street and Waffle House, only two blocks away from Cape Fear Community College.

TAP Tea opens seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

13 Bar and Lounge has opened at 141 N. Front St. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

Cheers, 13

A new bar has flipped on the open sign in downtown Wilmington in the former spot of Dior’s. Thirteen Bar and Lounge made its debut along Front Street, next to Cape Fear Spirits and Beer, this week. Owners Nina Orenstein and Tristen Langley have been renovating the space, primarily painting and positioning plush velvet couches and chairs to create a lounge atmosphere.

The three-story bar was “structurally sound,” Orenstein said, and didn’t require heavy refabbing.

“We’re aiming for a place that people can just have fun in,” she said.

The first two floors are open at the moment, with the goal for the third to host dance parties down the line. A DJ will be brought in from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and the ladies are considering hosting live music.

Orenstein has been a service industry lifer since her youth in New York,but this is her first bar. She grew up in a bed and breakfast her mother operated and by 15 began working in cafes. 

She was bartending before making the move to Wilmington. Orentstein worked at Dig and Dive, Slice of Life and Osteria Cichhetti, but when Covid-19 hit, she and her partner, Langley, focused on running a cleaning business.

“I wasn’t sure about how consistent things would be in the restaurant industry,” Orenstein said.

At the end of the summer, a friend told them 141 N. Front St. was for lease. By Sept. 1, they had signed paperwork to take it over.

“It’s nicer to not have to work for somebody,” Orentstein said, “and we had been talking about opening a bar for a while so the timing felt right.”

Orenstein said Thirteen — the birthdate of both owners and Orenstein’s favorite number — isn’t stuffy, rather aims to be a welcoming place for every barfly. Most importantly, she noted, will be its competitive prices on well-made drinks.

“It’s not a craft cocktail bar,” Orenstein said, “more laid back — a spot that anybody feels comfortable coming into and getting a drink. But if you want a nice martini, I can make it.”

Thirteen Bar and Lounge is open Wednesday through Sunday.

Port City Pops serves frozen treats out of their pop-up ice cream truck at area events and festivals. (Courtesy photo)

A ‘Southern’ ice cream truck

When Preston Hardgrove was 12, he packed up his dad’s Yeti cooler with popsicles on July Fourth, loaded it into a wagon to traverse the neighborhood selling frozen treats to area kids — and sold out.

A year later, at the ripe age of 13, he floated the idea to start an ice cream truck. Hardgrove’s family engaged the idea by researching trucks online, he said, but weren’t really sold on the hefty investment.

“So I said, ‘Dad, what if we take your pickup truck and put up a freezer on the back of it and convert it?’” Hardgrove remembered. 

And Port City Pops was born.

The Hardgroves bought a cold plate freezer, which can be plugged in overnight ahead of events, to prevent the operation from running on generators. They also found a top for the back of the truck, built with hydraulics so it can fold when parked in the garage. Magnets of the operation’s logo and all of its treats — mainly purchased through Blue Bunny — transform it into a mobile business.

“It’s just a typical Southern ice cream truck,” Hardgrove said matter-of-factly one Thursday after school. He was in between answering emails and handling marketing needs for Port City Pops while finishing his schoolwork, before heading up to Greensboro to look at colleges. 

“I’m thinking hospitality,” he said of a major.

Communications would be an ideal match for the youngster, a member of the newly launched Student Voice program the New Hanover County Schools started at the beginning of the month, to give students a platform to share concerns with decision-makers who help frame policies. Hardgrove also is actively involved in the local theater scene and was preparing for auditions for upcoming holiday shows, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Christmas Story.”

“Yes, I’m busy, but it keeps life interesting,” he said. 

The precocious student has always been business-minded. It began in his tweens, when he would formulate entrepreneurial ideas in a book: renting out jumpy houses and putting claw machines in every business in town.

“I actually tried to call businesses on that last one,” he said with a laugh, “but no one wanted the machines.”

Hardgrove became fixated on freeze-dried ice cream at the height of the freeze-dried candy phenomenon. He said he would still consider selling it on Port City Pops — ”but my dad doesn’t like that idea.”

Ice cream is something the entire family — dad Eddie, stepmom, Leslee, and sister Anna Hamilton — share a central love for.  They each take turns running Port City Pops on weekends. 

It has been an unmatched learning experience for Hardgrove. “I have learned about taxes, customer service, marketing,” he said. “And we get to sample lots of ice cream.” 

Unlike other food trucks in town, Pops doesn’t require as high a minimum to agree to an event.

“We try to cater toward families and birthday parties,” Hardgrove said. “We love going to a child’s birthday party and just seeing the smile on all of their faces.”

They’re booked practically every weekend for school functions and festivals, but also do larger family-friendly events. Port City Pops next will park at Cape Fear River Watch’s Lakefest at Greenfield Lake, Oct. 22. 

Pops rotates around 25 varieties of ice cream — Bomb pops, push pops, ice cream sandwiches, cookie sandwiches — priced between $2 and $4.

Its schedule can be followed here.

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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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