Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Former Chops owner opens neighborhood bar and grill Molly Pitcher’s with American Revolution vibes

Former Chops owner Chris Graham has opened a neighborhood bar and grill, Molly Pitcher's, inside an iconic building on Wrightsville Avenue that served as a grocery store in the 1930s, and later as the much beloved breakfast and lunch diner Salt Works II. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Former Chops owner Chris Graham has opened a neighborhood bar and grill, Molly Pitcher’s, in a building on Wrightsville Avenue that served as a grocery store from the 1930s to at least the 1960s, and later as the much-beloved breakfast and lunch diner Salt Works II. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — Beneath an oak tree on Wrightsville Avenue sits an old building with a tin roof that served as the Audubon Grocery store in the 1930s and 1940s to feed the growing suburban areas along the old trolley line to Wrightsville Beach. 

In 1989 it was converted into Salt Works II, according to New Hanover County Library associate Joseph Sheppard. The southern breakfast cafe became a popular breakfast hang-out for the people of Wilmington over the next 27 years. 

After a short stint as The Roadhouse, whose owners had renovated the place with a stripped-down, rustic atmosphere, the iconic building reopened in late June as Molly Pitcher’s American Grill, named after the folk-like legend of the American Revolutionary War. (Many historians believe Molly Pitcher is likely a composite figure reflecting real women of the war, including Mary Hays, who ran pitchers of water to artillerymen, and, after her husband was carried off the battlefield, took his place loading a cannon with a ramrod.)

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“I googled ‘badass women from the American Revolution.’ Molly Pitcher came up. So I learned who that term came from, and I was sold,” co-owner Chris Graham said while tending to customers at a newly installed bar last week. 

For Graham, who owned the well-known Chops Deli restaurants until they closed due to financial difficulties in 2018 to 2019, the theme of his new restaurant came not only from the 1700s-like vibes of the building, but as a way to pay homage to the strength exhibited by his mother, stepmother, sisters, and aunts. However, in a time of political division that’s often ignorant of actual history, it has also become a source of anxiety. 

Co-owner Chris Graham serves customers at the bar of the new Molly Pitcher’s, including Misha Sobol, center, owner of downtown’s Slainte Irish Pub. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

“Some have already mistaken [our theme] with the Civil War era,” he said, noting the controversial issue of Confederate monuments that has sprung up in Wilmington and throughout the country in recent weeks. “They just don’t know the difference between the American Revolution and the Civil War, believe it or not.”

The restaurant’s menu includes the Betsy Ross (BLT with fried green tomatoes and pecan pimiento cheese), Liberty Chicken sandwich, and Green Mountain Po Boy (made with shrimp, oyster, or pork belly).

Graham called the food “classic Americana cuisine with a southern twist, and heavy on the seafood.”

Asked what it was like to open a new restaurant amid a global pandemic, just a year after his last Chops Deli closed for good, he said it has certainly been challenging, especially with logistical chores like getting workers lined up and permits approved. But it was his wife’s faith that gave him strength, he said.

Although he can only open at 50% capacity due to the governor’s phase two economic restrictions, he said the restaurant has been “crazy busy” even with little advertising.

“We believe things happen for a reason, and I’m not one to question what happens, but to make the best of what happens. If this is the hand we’ve been dealt, we’ll try to make the best of it. …  It’s been interesting, but I feel like this is America; we’re strong and we’re going to come through this on the other side and hopefully, when we do, we know a lot more about each other and ourselves, and we’re all stronger and closer for it. That’s my hope.”

He also hopes his neighborhood grill can serve as a place for locals to eat and feel like they’re at home — without the need to cook or clean dishes. That’s why he added outdoor bar seating that looks out at the corner of Wrightsville Avenue and the quaint, tree-lined Audubon Boulevard, a new bar with 12 beer taps, and sports-heavy televisions over the bar.

In the corner, he added a sofa area beside a window-lined with pots of flowers and plants, beneath a low, slanted tin ceiling and stone walls — a quieter nook for customers to sip on wines, cognacs, and scotch drinks, according to Graham.

And with a 45-car dirt parking lot beside the restaurant, he also hopes to host neighborhood sign-up events like ‘swap meets,’ art and craft shows, and outdoor flea markets.

“We hope that we live up to the reputation that this facility embodies in Wilmington,” Graham said. “They love this building, they love this neighborhood, and we hope to live up to that. We’ll try to make the food and service impeccable. Everything else, like the awesome vibe in the building, is a distant third.”

Molly Pitcher’s is located at 4001 Wrightsville Avenue, four blocks west of College Avenue. Its current hours, which are subject to change based on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; and on Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

View more pictures of the restaurant below:

The restaurant has a sofa area next to the main bar and seating area. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
In the corner, Chris Graham added a sofa area beside a window-lined with pots of flowers and plants, beneath a low, slanted tin ceiling and stone walls — a quieter nook for customers to sip on wines, cognacs, and scotch drinks. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
In the corner Chris Graham added a sofa area beside a window lined with pots of flowers and plants, beneath a low, slanted tin ceiling and stone walls --- a more quite nook for customers to sip on wines, cognacs, and scotch drinks, according to Graham.
In the corner, Chris Graham added a sofa area beside a window-lined with pots of flowers and plants, beneath a low, slanted tin ceiling and stone walls — a quieter nook for customers to sip on wines, cognacs, and scotch drinks. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
A beer sits on the outdoor bar looking out at the corner of Wrightsville Avenue and Audubon Boulevard. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Molly Pitcher’s restaurant sits in a newly renovated building on the corner of Wrightsville Avenue and Audubon Boulevard that was home to a family grocery store in the 1930s and 1940s. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

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