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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The big (mac and) cheese: Nonprofit’s food fest expected to bring $9K for community needs

The Island Men will host its annual Mac and Cheese Festival and competition at Good Hops Brewing on Saturday, expected to bring in roughly 1,000 people. (Courtesy Island Men)

PLEASURE ISLAND — Upward of 15,000 2-ounce cups and 5,000 sporks will be handed out this weekend in Carolina Beach. Each will be filled with a variation on America’s favorite comfort food: mac and cheese. 

The Island Men will host its Mac and Cheese Festival and competition at Good Hops Brewing on Saturday, expected to bring in roughly 1,000 people.

READ MORE: Catch up on food news here

The fourth-annual event has grown in popularity, according to the nonprofit group’s founder, Bob Lewis. He started the nonprofit in 2013 to help support charities and needs that impacted the Carolina Beach and immediate surrounding areas.

His wife was part of its counterpart, Island Women, which started years earlier.

“They were doing a lot of good things in the community and we were kind of the labor that would help,” he said. “I said it would be great to have a guy’s version so started one.”

Island Men began with about a dozen members. That first year they brought in $500 and sponsored a baseball team. 

Today, around 225 men are part of the group. Members cover their own dues annually, which pays for insurance needed to run the nonprofit and one picnic they host to celebrate its founding. 

“Other than that, we donate all the money we collect,” Lewis said.

The Mac and Cheese Festival is one of six events with proceeds donated within the community. In its first year, a little less than three dozen participants entered the competition.

There are more than 40 this year, the majority of whom are residents, along with a handful of restaurants, including HopLite, Marriott Hotel and Stoked. All are vying for the Golden Noodle trophy and cash prizes, voted on by the public. 

Even in year one, Lewis said the event proved to be a hit. The idea was pitched by fellow Island Men member Lynn Halterman, originally from the Colorado area. Lewis said he based the mac-and-cheese fest on a similar happening in Halterman’s former town over three days.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Lewis said of the CB’s inaugural happening.  

Roughly 700 people showed up.

While the comfort food has become the draw, the ramifications of its output are greater than the convivial nosh gathering. Lewis said the festival can garner up to $9,000 in funds raised. 

This pot of money goes toward the $150,000 the nonprofit group expects to raise in 2023 from its other sponsored events. The largest are the Carolina Beach Regatta and Backyard BBQ Cookoff, each bringing in $20,000 or more. It also hosted the Missed Carolina Beach Pageant in February and has a spring golf scholarship tournament, plus fall’s Halloween Golf Cart Extravaganza.

Funds from the events funnel directly into the community to help charities, sports and educational programs, food-insecure families and civic needs.

“Right now, we probably have about 30 different charities that we support,” Lewis said. “Most are in southern New Hanover County.”

The group has donated to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Pleasure Island Youth baseball and softball teams, Carolina Beach Grade School, Martha’s Kitchen, The Katie B. Hines Senior Center, Island Time After School Daycare and summer camp programs, Pleasure Island Day of Hope and Education Without Walls.

The latter works with at-risk teens and provides outdoor expeditions to help motivate them toward academic achievement.

“They have 24 children in their program and we fund four spots,” Lewis said. ”I think it’s $2,500 for each spot.”

When not hosting charity-backed events, they also volunteer on the island — painting the Carolina Beach Rescue Station, providing labor to build Santa’s Workshop each holiday season, and offering safety patrol along the Carolina Beach Boardwalk during its annual summer season fireworks.

This weekend they will be serving the bites to every mac-and-cheese lover at Good Hops, assisting with parking and taking admission, as well as selling sodas and waters. Good Hops will have its brews flowing as well.

Lewis said the competition has drawn a younger group from what’s normally seen at other Island Men events. Most, like the regatta — a fundraiser for Ocean Cure, which helps people overcome challenges and disabilities — have a 40-years-and-older crowd, with golf tournaments bringing in those in their 60s. 

“The average age at the Mac and Cheese Festival was maybe in the 20s, 30s,” he said. “A lot of people told us they went to UNCW. Also, since it’s at a brewery, it tends to bring younger people.”

Saturday’s event is friendly-family and open to all ages. In fact, the most popular mac and cheese served comes from the kids table. Despite the homemade and rich creamy, buttery, and cheesy homemade recipes created, four or so pans are dedicated to the boxed variety: Kraft. 

“It’s funny because they go so fast — to the kids,” Lewis said. “They are going around looking at all the stations and what they want and they always come back to this.”

The powdery cheese concoction falls in the traditional category of the competition but has never won. Other categories are meat, seafood, vegetarian and spicy.

In previous years, a group of residents won for their lobster mac and cheese. Last year, Lewis said a team of employees from Marriott scored out over individual entries. 

The restaurants involved also act as commissary kitchens for the event. Island Men cook the recipes — entered for free from the community at the beginning of the year. They bring out the pots and pans Saturday morning and transfer them before the droves of people flock to the brewery by 1 p.m. Four pans for each entry are made. By 3 p.m., a few scrapes are left from the sides as awards are announced.

Island Men Mac and Cheese Festival takes place March 25, 1 p.m., at Good Hops Brewing, 811 Harper Ave. Entry is $10.

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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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