WILMINGTON—In six years, restaurateur James Smith opened four restaurants in the area: Fork n Cork in both downtown Wilmington and Carolina Beach, Smoke on the Water in Riverlights, and Bone & Bean BBQ on Carolina Beach Road. Smith announced earlier in the week he would shutter the Texas barbeque eatery, Bone & Bean, come Saturday.
“It’s just a tough spot,” Smith said on the phone Tuesday. “People zoom down Carolina Beach Road. They’re not looking for a place to stop. It’s neither point A nor point B.”
While the pandemic certainly added to the decision to close, problems with foot traffic has been ongoing for the last two years. The restaurant has been in the midst of a construction zone, as property owner Phil Miller began renovation to pave the lots and beautify it. According to Smith, it was supposed to take only three or four months total.
“We have people calling, asking if we’re open,” Smith said. “With hurricanes and stuff, construction got delayed. And it’s not Phil’s fault, but we got stuck in the middle of it.”
The 3530 Carolina Beach Road location will become a Pawville, a mix of a doggy daycare, spa and pet supply store. Miller already operates one in Porter’s Neck.
Smith considered moving Bone & Bean BBQ to another location and was even sussing out options downtown. “Right now I want to concentrate on what works and conserve my resources,” he said.
Instead, he decided to keep the original brand and Facebook page alive to focus on large caterings. The Fork n Cork in Carolina Beach has a larger kitchen and smaller smoker to churn out Bone & Bean’s popular brisket and barbeque.
“We’re gonna do some specials [at the Carolina Beach location] — beef short ribs are popular, and a couple sandwich specials and chicken-fried ribeye,” Smith noted.
He already added items to Smoke on the Water’s menus, including a barbeque platter and Bone & Bean’s famed nachos.
“My brother Dustin ran Bone & Bean, and is moving to Carolina Beach to continue it,” Smith said.
Dustin mans the smoker. He moved to Wilmington a few years ago — shortly after their mom — to help operate the restaurant. Smith and his brother share a love for Texas barbeque, thanks to growing up in San Antonio.
“We had cookouts with brisket and stuff all the time,” he said.
When friends and previous owners, Chris and Pam Valverde, had to move to Washington state a little more than three years ago, they approached Smith about taking over Bone & Bean BBQ. He thought it would be a good opportunity to evolve his love for the food and to work with his brother.
“But the location is tough,” Smith reiterated.
The pandemic shutting down Bone & Bean BBQ for 10 weeks certainly didn’t help, either. Sales decreased by 50%, according to Smith. The brothers tried to do takeout, but it wasn’t sufficiently paying the bills. Without insurance covering their losses from the pandemic, and only a little bit of money coming in from PPP, plus ongoing construction, they didn’t see a way to pivot to make Bone & Bean BBQ succeed in its current home.
“It’s just been strange,” Smith said of 2020. “I mean the restaurant industry has been thoroughly affected by the shut down, and all the restrictions and fears. I say this all the time, ‘This was not in the restaurant owner’s handbook.’ I know — I read it cover to cover. . . . I don’t know what the winter is going to hold with Covid restrictions, so I just have to be careful. It’s been a busy six years. It’s time to regroup, see what works and go from there.”
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