Sunday, October 1, 2023

Ohio-based BBQ restaurant considering fast-casual concept near Riverlights

The City BBQ restaurant team met with the city’s technical review committee for a pre-TRC consultation last Thursday about opening a drive-through concept at Crossroads at Independence. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — ”Barbecue” can be a fighting word nationwide, as states stake their claim to serving the best.

READ MORE: Local culinary competition heats up, 24 finalists vie for $1M and Burgaw restaurant

While North Carolinians tout pulled pork sandwiches doused in a vinegar-based sauce, Texas is championing slow-cooked brisket and sausages, with St. Louis-cut ribs remaining a favorite for midwesterners. 

City BBQ — a fast-casual restaurant chain with roots in Ohio — is appealing to all palates with a varied menu of piled-high meats, sandwiches and sides representative of multiple regions across the U.S. 

The restaurant team met with the city’s technical review committee for a pre-TRC consultation last Thursday about opening a drive-through concept at Crossroads at Independence. Should all go according to plan, it will join other establishments — K-38, Jeremiah’s, Port City Java — at the Harris Teeter-anchored strip mall, located at the corner of Carolina Beach Road and Independence Boulevard.

City BBQ’s menu includes beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, pulled chicken, smoked sausage, and St. Louis–cut ribs. Every restaurant has smokers on-site with brisket cooked for 18 hours a day. 

The restaurant also serves homemade sides, including green beans with bacon, mac and cheese, sweet vinegar slaw, corn pudding, hush puppies, cornbread, collards with pork, potato salad, baked beans with brisket and more. Desserts, prepared fresh daily, include peach cobbler, banana pudding, and triple chocolate cake.

City BBQ was founded in 1999 by Kansas-native Rick Malir, whose love for the ‘cue began by smoking meats in his garage and entering competitions. He remains on the executive board today and has grown the restaurant’s footprint into eight states. 

The restaurant already operates in North Carolina, with locations in Durham, Cary, High Point, Greensboro and Charlotte. It started off with more than 60 restaurants at the beginning of the year, with a growth plan to have 100 by the end of 2025, according to Forbes.

Its local move comes as another barbecue chain, Dickey’s — known for Texas-style smoked meats — closed in the Monkey Junction area earlier in the spring. It was located roughly 5 miles from the Crossroads at Independence, where City BBQ is looking to build on 1.55 acres.

The 3,500-square-foot restaurant will be at 3824 Carolina Beach Road and have an outdoor patio area for dining. It will heavily focus on drive-thru traffic, according to preliminary design plans submitted to the City of Wilmington by Jeffrey Lonchor of CESO, Inc., who did not return Port City Daily’s request for comment.

Lonchor and Andy Boothby, director of construction for City BBQ, met with Wilmington’s TRC to learn more about the proper details to include in its application. TRC documents — preliminary or otherwise — are not finalized and designs can change before construction ever begins. 

The businessmen were informed on urban forestry, zoning, permitting and transportation requirements needed to follow through on the concept.

Sally Thigpen, community services assistant director, asked about protected tree species that would be kept in the landscape design. Particularly, she was referring to 24-inch long leaf or live oak trees.

“Are you aware if there are any specimen trees on the site at this time?” she asked. 

“I am not aware, I apologize,” Lonchor said, who added it will be updated formally ahead of submission.

The restaurant will be located in a conditional zoning district, which means throughout the legislative decision-making process it’s subject to conditions put on current rules and regulations, in accordance to how the restaurant may impact the surrounding area.

“This site will likely get a lot of walk-up traffic, especially with other developments that are all around it,” Bill McDow, associate transportation planner for the city, said in the meeting. 

New construction of homes and apartments have popped up in the area over the last decade. Riverlights alone has added to the growth, with roughly 2,000 residents currently moved in and 1,000 more slated to come. Directly across from the Crossroads is a 250-unit apartment complex Hawthorne at Indy West, not to mention other long-standing neighborhoods such as Echo Farms and Del Webb.

According to City BBQ’s pre-application, it would draw in 158 extra vehicle trips to a growing corridor of traffic that has seen increased congestion over the last decade. The city notes on the application roughly 1,660 motorists move through the intersection on average daily.

ALSO: Independence Blvd. improvements could be coming down the pipe earlier than expected

City BBQ first launched its drive-thru concept over traditional dining rooms in Dayton, Ohio, in 2020. It has worked in the restaurant’s favor, according to QSR magazine, as its non-drive-thru stores earn $3.1 million in average unit volume while drive-thru units bring in $3.7 million on average. By 2024, the chain’s output will include a 25% drive-thru model over traditional dine-in-only eateries, QSR reports.

Three smokers will be blocked off near the drive-thru with 5-foot black fencing, according to Lonchor. Part of the City BBQ appeal comes in the smell of fresh-smoked meats welcoming motorists. 

At least five bike spaces will need to be added if the restaurant has 25 parking spaces or more, associate planner Miranda Frantz added.

Foot traffic and safety also was broached by Wilmington staff with the City BBQ team.

“It’s going to be important for you to show your connection from your internal sidewalk network to the public sidewalks on Carolina Beach Road and Independence,” McDow said. “If someone gets a hankering for your City BBQ, there’s a bus stop right at the corner of Carolina Beach Road in Independence and they may want to come from the bus stop. So, please, decide how you’re going to do that and then show it on the plan.”

He said the sidewalks would have to be ADA accessible as well.

The sidewalks will need to be at least 5 feet in width, according to Frantz, with “continuous internal pedestrian walkways from those connections.”

Once City BBQ formally submits its completed application in adherence to city requirements, it will take four to six weeks for the TRC to hold its formal review.

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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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