WILMINGTON — The old Riverboat Landing on downtown’s Riverwalk is now home to a casual Italian restaurant called Marsello’s. According to Barbara Christiana, who opened the new restaurant with her husband Jim on Memorial Day weekend, it’s also home to some unseen inhabitants.
Before the doors opened later Tuesday evening, all but one of the tables in the main upstairs dining room were stacked with chairs. In the corner, a small table was set with empty bowls, glasses, and a “reserved” sign in the middle.
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Christiana said this was the suggestion of a local ghost tour guide who believed the building was haunted by a family of four, dead long ago after a 19th-century fire. To keep them at ease, he had told her to always keep a table set only for them.
“They just want you to know it’s their building, and you have to treat them with respect,” Christiana said.
For those who don’t believe in ghost pirates or of a haunted downtown Wilmington, Marsello’s has more to offer — from Sicilian-style pizza and Italian subs to meatballs that were passed down from Christiana’s in-laws (view the menu below).
“There’s also stuffed banana peppers filled with hot sausage and Ricotta cheese,” Christiana said.
Although a whole tray of pizza is $32, she said it’s equivalent to two industry-standard large pizzas. And to wash it down there is a wide selection of wine and beer brewed in North Carolina, including Wilmington’s own Ironclad Smoked Honey Lager and the Cobia Kolsch from Wrightsville Beach Brewery.
According to Christiana, the idea came from a pizza shop her husband ate at since he was a boy growing up in Hopewell, Pennsylvania. When he returned recently to help his politician son with a local election, he stopped in and discovered the owner was struggling with health issues and keeping the restaurant open only three nights a week.
“She was like, ‘Jimmy, buy my business; I can’t do this anymore,'” Christiana recalled.
After some discussion, the Christianas decided to buy some of her recipes instead. Although they lived in the Raleigh area at the time, they were planning to open the restaurant in a college town like Wilmington.
After looking at several leases on Front Street, they decided to turn towards the river.
“We fell in love with the building,” Christiana said.
Their goal to open no later than Halloween was delayed by Hurricane Florence. After drying out a flooded first floor then fixing multiple electric and air-conditioning issues in the old building, they were finally ready to open.
But some issues, Christiana said, could not be logically explained — like the random flushing of the upstairs bathroom toilet or a motion sensor that would activate, but surveillance would show nobody inside the building when it was activated.
Christiana said patrons need not worry — these were just the pranks of old, bored spirits.
“They’re just letting us know they’re there,” Christiana said.
Click to enlarge the menu below:
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com