Port City Small Bites: Drift Café to open at WB, Burney heads to Leland

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The rendering of Drift Café, which will be located where Causeway Cafe and Gulfstream Restaurant once stood at 114 Causeway Dr. in Wirghtville Beach. The owners hope to open in April. (Courtesy Drift)

SOUTHEAST NC – Lots of movement is happening around the Port City when it comes to restaurants, food trucks, bars, and bottle shops, not to mention organizational and nonprofit food events and festivals. While Port City Daily already covers most of this news, “Small Bites” offers another way for readers to stay in the know.

READ MORE: Find the other culinary news of the week

Each week, the PCSB will reveal newsworthy information, from small changes and modifications to local menus, to expansions of existing establishments, temporary closures and renovations, overtime or grand openings, pop-up events and, of course, openings and closings.

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Gulfstream leaves WB, Drift Café to take over space

From Causeway Café to Gulfstream, the iconic blue building at 114 Causeway Dr. in Wrightsville Beach will be undergoing renovations over the next eight weeks. The owners of Drift Coffee + Kitchen took over the restaurant to launch their first expanded restaurant concept, Drift Café.

Ben and Michael Powell opened the first Drift Coffee + Kitchen in Ocean Isle Beach in 2014 before expanding to Wilmington in 2018, with store number two in Autumn Hall. In 2019 they also opened in Mayfaire.

“We didn’t expect such rapid expansion,” Powell said. “But we were really lucky.”

Ed Thomas announced in late February that Gulfstream Restaurant — founded on Pleasure Island 43 years ago, which Thomas bought in 2014 — would consolidate its operations. Thomas and his managing partner Rich Johnson took over the former Causeway Café location in July 2019.

Although stable at first, operations were not always easy. They endured Hurricane Dorian in September 2019 and then entered low season. Thomas said they were preparing for a strong spring 2020 tourist season when Covid-19 hit and closed Gulfstream WB until June 2020.

“We had a decent summer that year,” Thomas said, noting that most of his Wrightsville Beach staff had returned. Seating has been reduced in line with Covid-19 protocols, but it has accommodated alfresco dining and coasted in winter. Then, last spring, it started losing staff.

“And we couldn’t keep up,” Thomas said. “It’s not like our Carolina Beach location; I have servers who have worked there for over 25 years. I had more trouble finding cooks.

Also, his managing partner from Wrightsville Beach got married and decided to change careers. A 30-year restaurant veteran, Thomas took charge of both operations on his own. Despite earning a higher salary to rival other restaurants — ‘a difference of $3 an hour or more’ — he said he couldn’t find lasting help or a manager to fill the departure of Johnson.

Thomas said he made the decision to close Wrightsville Beach for the winter in November 2021, with plans to reopen by this spring. However, running two restaurants as a single partner during downtime was taxing. At full speed he knew he would be too spread out, he said – not to mention the food shortages and rising prices that added to the adversities of the business.

“My food cost probably went up 8% to 10%; the workforce has increased by 20%. Restaurant margins are typically between 6% and 20%, depending on the type of operation you run,” he said. “I just had to make a decision to coordinate my resources.”

Thomas decided to put the Wrightsville business on the market earlier this year.

The timing was perfect for the Powells. They had begun altering their plans for Drift, to offer an upgraded version of the cafe, already known for serving a variety of java drinks and breakfast and lunch bowls.

“There are a lot of traditional restaurants in town,” Ben said. “We want to create a modern and vibrant café atmosphere in Wrightsville.”

Surfers, the Powell brothers said their Drift concept came from trips to Australia and South Africa, where spaces felt more communal – lots of interaction with more face-to-face friendliness.

“We want the Drift Cafe to be a place where people feel cared for – a social and engaging place,” Michael said. “And we knew we wanted our first full-scale restaurant to be on the beach because there isn’t a sit-down breakfast place right now that I know of open on Wrightville. There’s a lot of coffee — a ton of coffee.

Unlike the cafe, Drift Cafe will offer table service for breakfast and lunch, both indoors and outdoors. The brothers are still working out menu details, but Ben said the food will continue to have the fresh, thoughtful appeal of Drift. The menu will include some of their standards, like loaded avocado toast, as well as larger plates, including Benedicts.

Drinks at Drift’s cafe will be served, but the restaurant will offer a limited alcohol menu, including mimosas.

“It’s a bigger undertaking to manage a team of 30-40 people than a team of 20,” Michael said, “We want to continue to grow with Drift, but in a controlled way.”

The Drift team is looking for an opening in April, if all goes to plan. Currently, they are hiring and have open interviews for all staff scheduled for Thursday, March 10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Thomas said Gulfstream in Carolina Beach will stay put. It cut dinner hours at the Pleasure Island staple last year; however, with its focus entirely on the flagship operation, the dinner will return with the tourist season.

“I love the company and the clientele,” said Thomas. “We have people who have been there for 30 or 40 years, who have brought their children, their grandchildren. It’s just unique to Carolina Beach.

Burney’s Sweets and More is coming to Waterford in Leland.

Burney’s Sweets and More is heading to Leland

Leland will be a bit sweeter as Burney’s Sweets and More has put up a sign indicating a location will be heading towards Waterford. No word on the official opening date, but the sign hangs at 503 Old Waterford Way, Ste. 105.

A family business, Burney’s is known for its fried and sweetened croissants, plain glazed or coated in powdered sugar. It also offers dozens of stuffed varieties, filled with creams and fruit spreads, from Bavarian chocolate, from raspberry to blueberry.

The bakery also serves 15-layer cakes, cheesecakes and cupcakes. While the sweets are bread and butter, so to speak, the bakery also offers savory options, like leeks and parmesan or tomato-olive-basil puff pastry.

Burney’s was founded an hour west of Elizabethtown ten years ago. It has 11 franchise operations across the state, including locations in Hampstead and Southport. It opened its first Wilmington location at the Mayfaire Town Center in 2020.

Port City Daily contacted the restaurant about an opening day but received no response. This article will be updated when and if a representative responds.

Rx temporarily closed

Sarah and James Doss have announced the temporary closure of the Rx restaurant on Castle Street. Its last service was on Sunday February 27 and will reopen in a few months.

Les Dosses will be doing renovations, confirmed Sarah. According to the restaurant’s social networks Publish, it is also preparing for a new chapter. However, details have yet to be released.

Since opening in 2012, Rx has become known for creating fine Southern cuisine, using fresh, local ingredients.

“One of the things we’ve been most proud of is that now so many of you know and personally support our local organic and sustainable farmers and fishers, who have always been the real rockstars and the reason for this. we do,” Dosses shared on Facebook.

Over the last two years of Covid-19, the restaurant has closed its doors several times to protect its staff and customers – several times before the restrictions imposed it. Les Dosses adapted Rx to the needs of the community, offering family meal plans when people weren’t dining out.

He even expanded the plan for the restaurant, adding a covered patio, built by Old School Rebuilders of Wilmington, and outfitted with greenery and an art installation by Michael Van Hout. The addition nearly doubled the restaurant’s seating capacity, at a time when required social distancing often reduced the number of covers a restaurant would do in one night.

The Dosses expects to reopen Rx in late spring or early summer.


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