Thursday, July 25, 2024

Taking flight: Concorde Espresso Bar opening in downtown boutique hotel

Concorde Espresso Bar will feature drinks that are popular around the world, including coffee and cocktails. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — It’s been quite a year for Alfalla Hospitality Group, which has opened two restaurants within months of each other. Now, an espresso bar that moonlights as a cocktail lounge in the evenings is slated to debut Friday.

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Concorde Espresso Bar will unlock its doors at 7 a.m. for its first customers on Dec. 15. The 70-seat shop is located inside Front Street Inn, purchased for $2.2 million by Ace and Jamie Alfalla and Donohue and Rachael Whyte in 2021. 

“So the coffee shop was supposed to open right after Preston Restaurant,” Jamie said. “But with the fire and everything that went down, we’ve just been trying to find our financial footing. Greystone slowed a lot of our plans.”

The group — with co-owners Dave and Lauren Gerin — opened the 120-seat Preston Restaurant in June 2023 inside the historic Greystone Inn, built in 1905. Five days after the fine dining establishment’s launch, a fire started in the kitchen and moved quickly into the walls of the inn. It shuttered operations, with most damage contained indoors, primarily the third floor. 

Alfalla Hospitality spent $1.9 million purchasing the inn in 2022 and investing in renovations with Dave Nathans of Urban Building Corp. Currently, it’s salvaging what was lost to the fire, with Bowman Architecture, Monteith Construction and Topsail Engineering re-renovating the location. The inn and restaurant is expected to re-open by summer 2024, according to Jamie.

As Greystone and Preston’s upfit continues, Alfalla Hospitality also opened Oklahoma’s Original Burgers in the Pointe at Barclay in August; all the while, the Whytes and Alfallas were preparing to launch Concorde.

Located at 215 S. Front St., the espresso bar is named after the Concorde supersonic jet, leaning into the travel theme of the renovated Front Street Inn. Formerly a bed and breakfast, the group transformed it into a boutique hotel, with automated check-ins. Each room is decorated to represent regions worldwide: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Zermatt, Switzerland; and Soho, London.

“Like in the Zermatt room, it really just kind of takes you to the base of the Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland, like in a cozy chalet,” Jamie described. “We want people to come here and get the feel that they’re traveling.”

Five of the 12 rooms — plus a cottage in the back — have been renovated. Jamie is working on the remaining rooms, to represent cities like Paris, with the hallway connecting to it and other suites to be indicative of a bullet train to travel between the cities.

The espresso bar is on the first floor of the Front Street Inn. It’s flight-heavy in decor, with artwork, books and articles about the Concorde jet and memorabilia in every nook and cranny. The Concorde was a joint operation from France and the U.K., hosting commercial flights that halved travel times; however, sonic booms over land relegated it to transatlantic flights only. It operated from 1976 to 2003 before it retired its flights.

Concorde’s drinks come in three sizes — main (12 ounces), business (16 ounces) or first (20 ounces) — reflecting the different classes of a plane, with prices ranging from $2.25 to $9. It also will serve “in flight snacks,” such as cookies and pastries.

The menu is extensive with various coffee and espresso drinks. Vietnamese coffee and cold brew appears, as does affagato, an Italian coffee-based dessert drink. It’s made with a scoop of plain milk-flavored or vanilla gelato “drowned” with a shot of hot espresso.

Cafe Bombom from Spain is served — a strong shot of espresso with sweetened condensed milk. Pour-overs and Long Island “Iced Coffees” also are on the menu, as are Italian iced cream sodas and shakeratos — “the Italian version of shaken espresso,” according to Jamie. Flavors include brown sugar, bananas foster, toasted hazelnut, caramel popcorn and cookie butter. 

There also will be signature lattes representing places from across the globe — such as the Nordic’s love for almond lavender or the French’s propensity for rosemary salted butterscotch. 

“Australia also has such an amazing coffee scene and they’re known to have some of the best coffee in the world,” Jamie added. “So we are kind of taking some traditional styles from different places and putting it on our menu.”

Hopefully, by the new year the cocktail bar will open. The goal is to highlight alcoholic espresso-inspired drinks, but also have traditional and unique cocktails. Jamie is most excited about the espresso martini menu. Concorde will offer around 10 styles, some more creamy, others perhaps stronger by changing the bean or using cold brew.

“One of my favorite espresso martinis has banana liqueur,” Jamie said. “Some include Kahlúa or amaretto.”

Also leaning into the travel theme, the cocktail menu will showcase libations that are enjoyed in various destinations. The gimlet will be featured, for example. One story has its origins based in the British Navy. Sailors were plagued with scurvy and the naval doctor Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette — from which the drink takes its name — suggested combining lime juice with gin to help combat the disease, caused by vitamin C deficiency.

However, the gimlet is not necessarily the most popular drink in London. 

“One of the most interesting things I found in research is there’s actually a passionfruit martini that’s really popular in London,” Jamie said. 

It will appear on the menu, along with items still being fleshed out with the help of Thomas Calhoun, the Preston Restaurant chef. He’s worked at Lenoir and Aviary Wine and Kitchen in Austin, Texas, and apprenticed with James Beard Award-nominee Laura Sawicki at La Condesa in Texas and California. When the fine-dining restaurant reopens in six months or so, his menu will remain the same. 

“We got so much positive feedback from the public,” Jamie said. “And we just had such a fun time making that menu and we were so excited about it, so we want to reopen the way that it was before making any changes to it.”

Despite the fire, the Alfalla Hospitality Group was able to keep some staff from Greystone Inn and Preston Restaurant to help in its other newly launched operations; the group also owns Verandas Bed and Breakfast. But staff that chose to exit were able to get jobs quickly, according to Jamie.  

“We got a lot of help from the community,” Jamie said. “Restaurant owners like Ash [Aziz of Circa 1922, Origins and Perla] and Billy [Mellon] from manna were willing to help us get everyone who needed a job right away re-employed. I thought that was really awesome.”

Chef Thomas will be helping at Concorde Espresso Bar for the next month, according to Jamie. It will open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and once the cocktail bar launches, operations will continue throughout the day until 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends. 

“Our niche beverage program won’t be available for about two to three weeks, probably January 1,” Jamie said.

Front Street Inn has parking for visitors, who will be directed to the espresso bar by signage posted on the premises. There is around 30 indoor seats and an outdoor garden can host around 40 people.

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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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