Saturday, June 15, 2024

Popular Porters Neck market expands to Wrightsville

The newly-opened NOMA gourmet market on Wrightsville Avenue. (PCD/Shea Carver).

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — When an old filling station at the corner of Wrightsville Avenue and Allens Lane became available for lease in 2022, Jenny Luper’s interest piqued.

The NOMA gourmet market owner was very familiar with the location. She and her college friends frequented it in the ‘80s — a pit stop on the way to Wrightsville Beach to pick up drinks and snacks. 

READ MORE: NOMA 8207 nixes dine-in service, renovates as a convenient gourmet market

“I lived over in that area and we went there all the time,” she said Wednesday morning. “The location inspired our move.”

She and her husband, Allen, took over the space and opened the second NOMA market on Tuesday. 

The only relic of its past are the concrete floors, cinder block walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. Everything was stripped down by Blue Ocean Construction and architect David Lyle designed the space, featuring wood and metal counters and shelves.

The tanks from the former station were removed years ago and all environmental concerns addressed. 

“I love the fact that we took a rundown building and made it something beautiful,” Jenny said. 

Within the first few hours in operation, 50 customers wandered through the doors, the clientele a tad younger — 35 year olds — from the 45-and-up customers NOMA serves at its flagship market 7 miles away in Porters Neck.

But Jenny suspects that, too, will fluctuate in coming months, as families flock to Wrightsville Beach for vacations. The island itself only has a population of roughly 2,500 but swells to 45,000 during summertime — and Wrightsville Avenue is one of only three streets leading to the beach. 

So when the empty gas station landed on Jenny’s radar, she considered the reach it could have, located less than a mile from the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge. The busy street stays congested at the height of summer, with traffic from both vacationers and locals heading to the shore.

The Wrightsville location, 1,110 square feet, sits on almost a half-acre lot, with plenty of parking for beachgoers to stop in and grab a few items before moving along.

But also it’s within walking distance of neighborhoods nearby to support it year-round.

“And our neighbors on Allens Lane have already been welcoming,” Jenny said.

NOMA offers freshly made, grab-and-go gourmet items — sandwiches, salads, soups, quiches, chicken salad, pimento cheese, potato salad, and dips. It also specializes in take-and-bake frozen meals, such as lasagna, casseroles, and mac and cheese. 

The Lupers first opened NOMA in Porters Neck in 2018. Formerly known as Temptations, the gourmet market had become a staple in the northern part of the county, offering tableside service and to-go items. 

They renovated the 1,900-square-foot restaurant in February 2021 and decided to move away from a traditional dine-in eatery to a takeout-only model. Essentially, they had already dropped table service out of necessity during Covid-19, when most restaurants went to curb-side service to stay afloat. 

Yet, the Lupers found that shift increased efficiency and sales — by 20% from 2019 to 2020, according to previous Port City Daily reporting.

Jenny said since completing the full remodel and being operational in the setup for two years now, the store has experienced a 300% sales increase.

“The switch has been a game-changer,” she said.

Primarily, she attributes its success to the fast-paced daily life gaining steam again after the pandemic and people wanting convenience more than ever. 

“We call it our ‘bizarre blessing,’” Jenny added. “Covid was awful, awful, awful. And, somehow, we just found a little niche that worked.”

Porters Neck also offers hot food, sandwiches, burgers and entrees for breakfast, lunch and dinner, made-to-order out of its 1,200-square-foot kitchen. The Wrightsville Avenue market doesn’t have a kitchen and only features pre-made items from Porters Neck. Jenny and crew replenish shelves and coolers daily.

“So instead of doing 30 chicken pot pies, we do 60 now in a batch,” she said. “Everything remains fresh, not to exceed a few days per the health department.”

And the items offered are always changing. Recently, a chicken cordon bleu casserole was stocked — a recipe devised at home during the Lupers’ dinner.

“It started out as the rolled chicken, lightly seared,” Jenny said. “But it was way too labor-intensive. So we just changed the item into a casserole and now it’s my favorite thing in there.”

She indicated the Wrightsville customers will help dictate other items brought in, whether through requests or by employees keeping a close eye on what sells. Two full-time employees and four part-timers are running the Wrightsville store, including the Lupers’ daughter, Hannah. Jenny said there could be more employees filling out the summer rush.

“We’re also focusing more on retail and gift items in the Wrightsville market,” she said. “So you can grab a snack and some wine and beer on the way to a party but also pick up a hostess gift.”

NOMA will stock its shelves with homemade sauces and salsas, cheese straws, candies and other gourmet goodies. It also will carry wine and beer, though it will be another two weeks until the ABC permits come in.

The market also has homemade desserts and pastries, and recently added sweet treats from local bakery Gluten Free by the Sea. 

“And if one of our own recipes can be made gluten-free, we will accommodate,” Jenny added.

The store operates Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it may include Sunday hours if demand is there this summer. NOMA is located across from Harris Teeter and beside Craft American Hardware at 7006 Wrightsville Ave.

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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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