It’s the time of year when Wilmington starts singing the praises of its locals. Businesses, theatre companies, artists, thespians, musicians, humanitarians, volunteers, media, bloggers … they’re all recognized as the crème de la crème in encore’s annual reader’s poll—a poll which has been taking place well over 25 years in Wilmington. We hold the official Best Of moniker.
In 2014, between nominations and final votes, we culminated over 20,000 voices to crown the winners. Nominations opened in mid-November 2013 and closed in early December, before final voting opened mid-December and closed mid-January 2014. All voting was done by encore readers through our online voting system, featuring 136 categories. We try to be as fair as possible, and while we encourage local businesses and groups to campaign so their patrons/fans to vote for them, we do lay a few ground rules in campaigning practices:
1) No stuffing the ballot box! That means you can’t vote under multiple email addresses or encourage customers and employees to do so.
2) No voting on someone else’s behalf. If you have a list of email addresses that don’t belong to you, please, don’t fill out ballots in their names.
3) Do not entice patrons/fans into voting for you by offering specials, discounts or prizes in exchange for votes.
After voting closes, we throw our annual Best Of Party and Fund-raiser. This year’s event was held at Brooklyn Arts Center on February 8th. The masquearde ball benefitted Kids Making It—a wonderful local nonprofit, which teaches woodworking skills to at-risk youth (see our cover story from encore’s February 12th edition for full info on KMI). Thanks to 600 tickets sold, numerous raffles, T-shirt, hoodie, and masquerade-mask sales, as well as monies raised during our Best Of Battle of the Bands, KMI raised $7,223 and took home $5,000 after expenses.
Our Best Of hosts, comedy troupe Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, entertained with a plethora of sketches across every category of award-winners. Their impeccable organization and outstanding massive team of members ensured audiences were never bored—especially with the Phantom of the Opera lurking about and haunting the room throughout the night.
We laughed a ton, but we ate even more, thanks to a monster-load of food passed throughout the evening—and provided from our numerous nominees in food and beverage (thank you, all!). And we danced to music from DJ Magic Marker and our Best Of band nominees.
Speaking of which: 2014 saw a six-way tie for Best Band! No Dollar Shoes, L-Shaped Lot, Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine, Mike Blair and the Stonewalls, the Bibis Ellison Band and Machine Gun all received equal votes. Because of previous engagements, only three bands were able to play the ceremony. No Dollar Shoes, Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine, and Mike Blair and the Stonewalls churned out a lovely mix of Americana, bluegrass and indie-rock. They each played two songs and allowed the audience to vote on the winner with dollars donated to KMI. No Dollar Shoes came out on top!
Just so you can see the fabulosity of the attendees who dressed to the nines, as well as the run-down of winners and a whole lotta pictures of the evening (thanks to Sean Carr Photography and Holland Dotts Photography), flip through encore’s Best Of editions, February 19th through March 12th; all writeups will be online at www.encorebestof.com on March 19th to access throughout the rest of the year.
Welcome the Best Of Wilmington class of 2014—winning looks great on them!
GOODS & SERVICES
PLACE TO BUY MUSIC
From 3-years-old Matt Keen knew his life path would contain a world of music in some form or fashion. Though classically trained in violin from his early 20s—and being accepted into the NC School of the Arts—he chose to pursue a degree in business management at UNCW. After working at Manifest Discs and Tapes in the ‘90s, upon their closing he wanted to ensure Wilmington still maintained its own record store to keep fueling the passion of sound to the masses. He opened GRAVITY RECORDS in 2004; this year marks their 10th anniversary and quite a brithday party to come at their Castle Street location in August. “I picked the field of music because music moves everyone,” Keen says, “no matter who you are or what you’re into.”
At Gravity folks can find the best in new and used CDs, vinyl, cassettes, and DVDS. They also extend their services not only to developing the most knowledge in genres of sound, but they repair audio gear, including turntables, CD players, speakers, recievers, tape dects, effects pedals, rack units and more.
“Bands trust us to fix their gear,” Keen notes. “Music lovers bring in their turntables for new needles and belts, and people just getting into it all come to us with thrift-store finds in need of minor cleaning and soldering touch-ups.”
Their relationships with their peers, as well as close-knite ties to record labels and bands across the country keep the niche store ever-evolving. “We feed off of each other for ideas,” Keen notes.
He strives to make his business a place of comfort—somewhere people can go to interact over their passion for bands and albums. Having moved last year, and bringing Keen’s wife, Lindsey, into the business, makes it cozier in familial terms—something they also strive with customers, treating everyone as if part of their own bloodline. Their store hosts two listening stations, and is centrally located in Castle Street’s Antique and Arts District within walking distance of cafés and coffee shops.
“We’re basically a commercial street in the heart of a beautiful, friendly, and diverse neighborhood,” Keen notes. “The new location also gave us the opportunity to stock more product and have more room to work on audio equipment.”
They increased in size from 1,800 square feet to over 2,000. In their constant transformation of brand and superb customer service (their staff also maintains a vast amount of music factoids and encyclopedic knowledge, including the Penguin’s afternoon DJ Eric Parsons), they make sure all items are reasonabley priced.
“Vinyl is still the biggest item trending right now,” Keen says, “along with affordable turntables, and that’s something we’re looking forward to more heavily stocking.”
Folks who wish to follow the shop’s evolution must hit them up on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram for constant opportunities to catch discounts and win gift certificates. They’ll also promote in-house shows and events at Gravity. “We’re sort of marrying the Internet with the mom-and-pop shop,” Keen states. “It’s cool.”
Moreso, they’ve taken home the coveted “e” for nie years now. Quite honestly, Keen says it never tires. “It wasn’t a panel of judges [voting for us,]
he states. “It was the masses, and that feels really good.”
Other music stores turning in votes include Yellow Dog Discs and Best Buy.
PLACE TO BUY A NEW CAR
Everyone remembers the appeal of the Volkswagen commercials from the late-’90s: presenting the perfect scenario of contenmentment, with a group of friends driving in a VW Cabrio convertible, the black sky sparkling with the moon and stars, as Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” played in the background. The highly successful ad started the relaunch of the famed VW branding, offering style, substance, and innovation, with a hip sense of nostalgia in the modern-day lifestyle.
Locally, Bob King Automall, specifically their VW branch, tips the win for their first entry onto encore’s poll. Readers simply love BOB KING VOLKSWAGEN as the Best Place to Buy a New Car in 2014. Maybe it’s the new, sleek Jettas, or the efficiency of the Passat, or maybe the redesign of the Beetle that once again keeps them returning. Whatever it is, it continues Bob King’s tradition of offering the best.
“Robert S. King started out his love for automobiles in the late 1960’s when he first started working for General Motors Pontiac Division,” general manager Jason Wallace says.
Locally, in 1972 Bob King Automall was born. Mr. King’s knowledge of cars remained vast. He’s served as a Pontiac dealer, Mercedes-Benz dealer, GMC dealer, Buick dealer, and of course Volkswagen. The motto to remain top-notch across all platforms of vehicle offerings comes from one idea alone: “Service creates sales.”
“Through running an honest business based on all aspects of customer service and personal relationships, a one-time customer becomes a customer for life,” Wallace says. “General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen all have recognized the dealership’s values when it comes to customer service and sales through multiple awards and accolades.”
Aside from garnering national and local recognition, the dealership also has a 75-percent repeat customer base. “The customer is truly king and has been for over 42 years,” Wallace assures.
Like many dealerships, Bob King Automall has recognized the growth of shopping from home via online sales. In response, they’ve increased their Internet presence over the past few years. Plus, they’ve expanded service hours, and are constantly updating their facilities.
“Mr. King feels that the locals are what have made this business and that is who we are here to serve through our sales and service departments,” Wallace maintains. “This win just reminds the dealership of that point.”
2015 will welcome a slew of new vehicles across the numerous Bob King lots: the GMC Yukon, Mercedes-Benz CLA and GL, as well as the VW SportWagen. Constant product deliveries, including pre-ownded inventory, keeps them showcasing high-class options for any driver.
Other dealerships driving onto our nominee list include Stevenson Mazda and Hendrick Toyota Scion of Wilmington.
Folks know Alan Perry for many reasons. Aside from running a highly successful jewelry store, he attends a vast array of charity events every year and donates back to the community tenfold thanks to his success at PERRY’S EMPORIUM. Perry’s rounds out the number-one spot for Best Jeweler 2014, as the locals recognize him for his generosity, but also from his famed commericals. His showcase of fun and quirky campaigns, often promising a free engagement ring if it snows in some random place on some random day every Christmas, appeals to many. Paired with an outgoing endearment and tagline, “We’ll see ya when you get here,” he’s branded himself a local yokel to support whenever someone wants to sell gold, have a prized possession like a family heirloom fixed, or shop for a special anytime present.
“Ever since I was about 16 years old I have been involved in the jewelry industry,” Perry says. It all started in the ‘80s in Charlotte; Perry and his brothers ran a family jewelry store. It wasn’t untill 1990 Perry wanted to branch out on his own, so, he moved to Wilmington and founded the emporium so well-known today.
“My passion has continued to grow over the years as my sons become more involved with the family business and with their eagerness to learn all there is to know about the jewelry industry,” he says. “My love for this business grows even stronger.”
The pride of being family-owned and operated extends to customers. The staff’s constant compassion for every cleint’s needs keeps loyalty and commitment alive and well in extraordinary service. “We treat every item as if it was our own,” Perry says, “and ensure it gets the best quality service we can provide.”
Though inventory changes regularly at the Barclay Commons’ store, Perry’s Emporium always embraces the new. That includes technology to attract upcoming generations of shoppers. “Being from an older generation you can dislike change, but you bring in younger blood and learn to embrace it,” Perry states. “You can teach an old dog a new trick or two!”
Their Heartbeat pendant continues being a top-seller, and in upcoming months folks can expect to enjoy a Customer Appreciation Day at Perry’s. Plus he promises other fun events throughout 2014. “You never know what I may come up with!“ he quips.
This marks the third win for Perry’s Emporium throughout the years. It’s one the owner and staff do not take for granted either. “We feel very blessed for being voted for by the locals,” he says. “When we’ve won previous years, we’ve gained new clients, and the recognition lets us know we must be doing something right, but we know we can always do better!”
Other nominees sparkling into second and third are REED’s Jewelers and Kingoff’s.
At 6114 Market Street, THE PLANT PLACE cannot be missed. The pink and green building, owned and operated by Bill and Bobbie Edwards, has become revered for evolving its two greenhouses in 1976 into 34 in 2014, along with several quansit houses and a field-growing area. Along with a dedicated staff, including their shop manager, Dee Ivey, who has worked with them for 29 years, and greenhouse manager Shawna Hopson’s service for 11 years, they continue their adoration for all things green and growing.
“We are passionate about our business because we grow all of our own plants, with the exception of tropicals,” Bobbie says. They work with exclusive plant brokers to help bring the best products to plant-loving customers.
Bill’s degree in floriculture from Cornell University, and Bobbie’s business sense and artistic flair keep the store operating at break-neck speed. Not to mention, the fun-loving, happy eagerness they share with customers remains top priority.
“We answer questions and take time with each customer,” Bobbie notes. “We know them by name, and if not, we make it a point to learn their names and faces. We offer advice, repotting services and good old-fashioned courtesy.”
The Plant Place keeps prices competitive, whether one’s shopping for an herb, vegetable, or flower garden. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, they also have an extensive garden gift shop for accessories, seasonal decorations and more. Currently, on the heels of hot-weather, they’re on the search for drought-tolerant plants which will be least problematic to grow.
“We don’t sell plants that have a genetic problem (i.e. old-fashioned impatiens that carry a fungus),” Bobbie tells. “We only sell quality, and we dono’t skimp on anything, by using quality soil and fertilizers, along with giving all plants tender-loving care.”
As well, they will offer demos and classes occasionally to help educate the public on garden-keeping and maintanence. By following trade magazines and interior-design trends, the crew constantly adds new products to the public.
“It’s very gratifying to be chosen by our customers,” Bobbie says. “It reminds us how important they are to us. We won last year, and to be chosen again is so humbling.”
Other garden centers sprouting up on our poll include The Transplanted Garden and Progressive Gardens.
PLACE TO BUY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” This is precisely why FINKELSTEIN’S MUSIC continues servicing Wilmingtonian’s needs for being the Best Place to Buy Musical Instruments.
Having actually started over a century ago in 1906, Finkelstein’s is a landmark at the corner of Market and Front streets in downtown Wilmington. It began as a general store, and sold all sorts of items throughout the years. Today, Finkelstein’s stands tall as a jewelry shop and primarily a music-instrument haven.
“We strive to give the shopper a unique and tangible experience, one you cannot get online,” owner Bobby Hamelburg says. They price-match online rates and can place special orders for all musicians.
“Guitars are always ‘trending,’” Hamelburg says. “We try to provide a comfortable environment for anyone, and everyone to come in and play a few strums.”
The staff at Finkelstein’s aren’t just dedicated to great customer service, they’re trained musicians as well. They make sure to keep their store simple and organized and listen to the customer always.
“The people make the place,” Hamelburg says. “The crew at Finkelstein’s are music lovers who are professional in all aspects of the industry. “
Therefore, offering the most up-to-date knowledge on products comes naturally. Currently, Hamelburg says Clip on electronic tuners seem to be selling really well. “They have transformed the tuner market,” he notes.
Their quality products and service goes unmatched, which is why the community constantly crowns them the best annually. In fact, this the shop has been taking home this award for more than a decade now.
“It feels great receiving positive feedback from our community,” Hamelburg says. “This is a very competitive industry, but we believe everyone has their own niche and we respect our competitors fully.”
Other stores topping are list in this category are Music Loft and Modern Music. —Shea Carver
Located within walking distance of the shops and restaurants at Mayfaire Town Center is Wilmington’s Best Apartment Complex, THE RESERVE AT MAYFAIRE. The establishment aims to be the height of luxury living. The community also positions itself a quick bike ride away from Wrightsville Beach.
Their roomy and contemporary-designed units provide tenants with an affordable, upscale living option. Offering an array of floor plans, openess remains the unifying component of each option. Offering up to three-bedroom residencies, The Reserve has two designs for one and two bedroom apartments that feature a smaller and larger floor plan to accommodate the needs of modest dwellers or space-cravers.
The Reserve at Mayfaire doesn’t just seek to provide housing, they also hope to cultivate an entire lifestyle through a range of amenities. The neighborhood boasts a residents only gym and swimming pool. As well, the main office serves as home to a spacious theater, which residents can reserve for an intimate screening or an Oscars viewing party. Fostering a family-friendly environment, they offer a playground for kids, and the main office routinely serves snacks and foods to forge relationships between their renters.
Though The Reserve at Mayfaire is an apartment complex, they strive to create as homey a feel as possible. Pet-friendly, they permit up to two dogs and three pets total—though certain breeds and types are restricted.
Residing in second and third place are The Reserve at Forest Hills and Cape Harbor Apartments.
REAL ESTATE COMPANY
From the historic houses that line the cobblestone streets downtown to the nautical houses in Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington features a multitude of prime properties. Honing in on the diversified market is Wilmington’s Best Real Estate Company, INTRACOASTAL REALTY CORPORATION.
CEO Jim Wallace began the company in 1976. A one-man show during its formative years, Intracoastal Realty has steadily grown—even becoming the New Hanover market leader since 1989. Over the years, the real-estate company has procured in depth knowledge of the Cape Fear are market. Serving Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Hampstead, Topsail Beach, Leland, Southport and Oak Island, the corporation is a full-service brokerage that specializes in vacation rentals, long-term rentals, property management, project development and new home communities.
“We have the most experienced, knowledgeable, hardest-working agents in the business,” vice president and marketer Lake Slacum says. “That’s what produces results.”
Slacum’s praise for the staff isn’t just fluff; the corporation thrives due to the relationships forged between employees. Donning an unofficial motto, “work hard, play hard,” Intracoastal Realty fosters a familial atmosphere.
Known for its ups and downs, the housing market is an ever-evolving business. Staying ahead of the curve on technology and innovation proves key in remaining afloat. One such effort comes in their award-winning website which is compatible with desktops, laptops, tablets, mini-tablets, or phones. “With the increase in mobile usage, we seized this opportunity to offer a website that better serves those looking for real estate,” Slacum divulges.
Throughout 2014, Intracoastal Realty want to develop new products and services to augment their already admirable corporation. The company embarked on creating a few new items that are slated for unveiling in the coming months. Their inclination toward improvement pays off with the reputation they’ve managed to garner.
“A brand is derived from who you are and ultimately how others perceive you,” Slacum excites. “It is very humbling to have people in the community vote us as the best real estate company.”
Second and third place for Wilmington’s Best Real Estate Company goes to Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty and Century 21 Sawyer.
Wilmington’s diversified areas—each with their own distinctive charm—results in many residents making moves over the course of their time in the port city. Being a college town, roommate squabbles also constitute a number of trans-city relocations. Luckily, Wilmington’s Best Moving Company makes house-hopping simple.
The franchise found its footing in Lansing, Michigan, founded by Brig and Jon Sorber. TWO MEN AND A TRUCK—which now spans over 32 states—had humble beginnings as the brothers hauled furniture for extra money in their pickup truck. While their namesake characterizes the company’s formative years, the moving company has since evolved beyond the two stick figures their logo depicts.
Aiding Wilmington’s business and residency moves, Two Men and Truck boasts customizable options to make such a stressful time as convenient as possible. The company will even pack for you upon request—whether you need them to do all or just one room. They also provide customers with the option to unload only. As well, locals redecorating or remodeling their home can take advantage of their internal move option, which will send movers to transport items from one room to another. Those making a change on a budget can check out the company’s website to utilize their free quote.
Second and third place go to Few Moves, LLC and Coastal Carrier.
Anchoring everything from Ulta, to World Market, to their high-tech Time Warner Cable location, Wilmington’s Best Shopping Plaza MAYFAIRE TOWN CENTER offers an unparalleled shopping experience.
Cultivating an atmosphere of a city within a city, Mayfaire constitutes a distinct presence in Wilmington. Aside from their shops, the plaza boasts an apartment complex, movie theater, offices, a host of hotels, and more.
Established in 1999, Mayfaire sought to produce a “work, live, play” community in Wilmington. With an all-in-one mindset, the shopping center aims to always make a Mayfaire visit worth the customer’s time. Offering a diversified selection of stores, ranging from high-end clothing retailers like Banana Republic and Francesca’s, to book retailer Barnes and Noble, the high-density center houses a number of eateries like Panera Bread and On the Border to create a convenient experience for patrons. Donning architecture that recalls a small-town, Main Street vibe, the plaza evokes idealism—cultivating an air of familiarity with a modernized twist. Their fusion of convenience with aesthetic guarantees a quality shopping experience.
Despite already successful efforts, Mayfaire still strives for improvement. “Mayfaire continues to ‘tweak’ its merchandise mix and bring people of eastern North Carolina new retail concepts not covered in every market,” managing partner Hyman Brody explains.
The shopping center has a number of national tenants considering the shopping center. This summer will see the inclusion of national bargain retailer Marshall’s as well as Dick’s Sporting Goods. As well, they are considering a phase-three expansion of Regal Mayfaire Stadium 16.
The plaza’s efforts are not in vein; they’ve taken home the Best Of win for the past eight years. “It’s very special and a validation that people like what is here,” Brody excites.
Enticing shoppers with second and third place are midtown’s Hanover Center and downtown’s The Cotton Exchange.
Staying abreast of the latest trends comes easy for port city residents given the abundance of local clothing stores that populate the area. Wilmington’s very own BLOKE knows how to secure a Best Of spot, mainly because they stock a plethora of brands from Big Star Jeans to Alternative Apparel to Half United to French Connection that keep men looking GQ ready. Located on Military Cutoff near Slice of Life, Bloke focuses on the hip and young professional.
“Being a lifestyle-oriented shop, we change with the seasons and offer options for every day of the week,” owner Michael Vinson states. “So, if you’re looking for a shirt and tie to wear for your next hot date, or just some Sunday loungewear, we have you covered.”
The contemporary men’s clothing store prides itself on being a part of the community. The store has cultivated immense growth over the past three years due to their prioritization of fostering close relationships with their clientele.
Staying well-versed on what’s current proves just as important as the store’s implementation of a quality business model. Currently, Bloke is tapping into the growing market for male grooming. The store carries a wide selection from local supplier Forge & Foundry, founded by Jeff Bridgers. Bridgers, a metalsmith and artist, handmakes shave soaps, pomades, beard oils, razors, and brushes.“Guys are taking more ownership in their appearance and the market is reflecting this,” Vinson elaborates.
In the coming year, Vinson promises quite a few more surprises. They hope to expand their online presence and add a few new clothing lines.
“I fully believe in the quote, ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,’” Vinson enthuses. “I consider myself very blessed to wake up every day and be excited to go into Bloke.”
Coming in second and third for Wilmington’s Best Men’s Clothing Store are Gentlemen’s Corner and Belk.
Arts, Media & Entertianment
The familiar voices that accompany many to and from work daily are like a familiar friend when tuning into the Penguin 98.3 FM. Morning and early-afternoon radio personality KIM CZORNIJ (Zor-nick) wins the ears and hearts of listeners everyday through her dedication to keep playing the best new music triple-A radio can play.
Czornij’s infectious spirit, passion for music, and her enthusiasm for ticket-give ways have permeated port city airwaves for almost six years now. Born and raised in Greensboro, NC, her career didn’t begin in radio. Formerly, she was a drug-rehabilitation counselor. Looking for a more light-hearted job that still had the potential to touch lives, Czornij stumbled into her current profession.
“It never crossed my mind to be on the radio,” she states. “I first interviewed for a possible sales position. [However,] the stars aligned, and I have been having the time of my life!”
Drawn to music as a result of its universality and connectivity, Czornji beams over her ability to introduce listeners to quality music. She recalls listening to Elvis records at an early age and realizing the power of music, though at the time unsure of how to channel this interest.
Currently, the music lover sings praises for Holly Williams and Jason Isbell, each of whom recently played at Ziggy’s By the Sea. Czornji likes the raw, vulnerable emotion in Williams’ songs. As well, she has taken to “Call Me” by St. Paul and The Broken Bones and “California (Cast Iron Soul)” by Jamestown Revival.
Each week she also gets multiple chances to connect with fans personally. Czornji hosts Rate-a-Record at Slice of Life, which allows Wilmingtonians a chance to choose new music heard on the Penguin weekly. Each Monday night she hosts ticket giveaways at Mellow Mushroom’s Pengo, too. “It is so fun getting to know and hang with our listeners,” she enthuses.
Dialing in at second and third are Foz at z107.5 and the Sheila Brothers with Sunny 104.5. —Christian Podgaysky
In 2005 NO DOLLAR $HOES started up primarily as a bluegrass band, with Benjo Smith, and twins Jesse and Carson Jewell leading the helm. Though they’ve had a rotating group of musicians come in and out (Andy Lowe of Grandpa Wood and the Woodpile, Ryan Eversole on fiddle), the trio have remained at its heart. Today, they consider their music more folk and traditional country rather than bluegrass, and in January 2014, they expanded once again by adding Ben Privott on drums and keys.
“The band is lucky to have him,” upright bassist Smith says. “Having the drums have allowed us to push our music in a different direction.”
Making their first appearance on encore’s poll as winners for Best Band validates the numerous gigs the bands have lugged equipment into over the years. Playing frequently across Wilmington also has garnered No Dollar $hoes a loyal following.
“Venues we play regularly include Duck and Dive, The Whiskey, Goat and Compass, Satellite and The Palm Room on Wrightsville Beach,” Smith says. “We end up doing a few gigs a month, sometimes more, sometimes less.”
Though they don’t hold down standing weekly gigs as of late, they rotate venues every four to six weeks. So, folks are likely to catch them on local bills often.
“Carson is leaving on a surfing trip next week and we will have a little time off,” Smith says. “Ben and I play at The Blind Elephant every Thursday, but as a piano and bowed-bass combo.”
The last year for the band has been packed with recording their sophomore album, a followup to “Extra Medium,” which was released two years ago. Mostly, all songs are written by Jesse before the band hears it and tries them out at practice or on-the-fly onstage. “Eventually, they mostly work themselves out,” according to Smith. The unnamed album—which the band recorded on and off over the last year—will be released this spring. That each member has a day job means juggling time between family obligrations and hobbies. But the band keeps it low-pressure to ensure it remains fun during every live performance and practice.
“We just want to keep playing while making it sound as good as we can,” Smith says. “We want to keep putting out more new songs . . . Music is a lot of fun and a great release. We’d like to keep it that way. Some people paint; some people run. We bang on our instruments and yell into mics all night. Same thing.”
Mostly self-taught musicians, the band collectively has endured music lessons at some point in their lives. They’ve also been inspired by family, especially the twins, who played frequently with their father, Pat Jewell, during front-porch jams in high school. Smith played bluegrass in high-school as well, and with local acts Grandpa Wood as well as the Barnraisers. Yet, gelling as a prolific live act has helped hone their craft as a unit.
“We believe that most our practice comes from the gigs we play, and learning how to work well with each other” Smith says. “We have all put years into the Wilmington music scene, as have many other great bands.”
The traditional feel of sounds played from days of yore seemingly connect their fans. The storytelling, the upright bass thumps, the abundance of finger-picking and the down-home feel of it reach into the lives of many.
“We think our music is pleasing to a large swath of people young and old,” Smith adds. “People can expect to hear a lot of harmonies.”
For the first time in encore’s Best Of history, a six-way tie commenced, with nods going to Bibis Ellison, L Shaped Lot, Machine Gun, Mike Blair and the Stonewalls and Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine. The Best Band winner gets determined at the Best Of Masquerade Ball as bands play to raise money through each set for the nonprofit beneficiary, which was Kids Making It in 2014. No Dollar $hoes raised the most money among Mike Blair and the Stonewalls and Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine. Bibis Ellison, L Shaped Lot and Machine Gun couldn’t play the event from previously booked engagements.
Well over 100 shows hit the stage across Wilmington’s theatre scene annually. With the plethora of theatre companies in town, comedies, dramas, musicals, and even shorts, whether original or of Broadway caliber, come to life thanks to a vast talent pool of thespians, creative directors, set-designers, musicians, hair and makeup folks, and more. They all work tirelessly to make our small town a big catch for live theatre.
2013 saw more talent onstage than local reviewers could shake a stick at; but Wilmingtonians spoke loud and clear on the one that left the most impressive impact. Cape Fear Theatre Arts LLC (a.k.a. City Stage)’s THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW managed to hit all the right degrees of edge and entertainment to take home Best Theatre Production of the year.
Starring creative director Justin Smith in the lead role of Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter, veteran thespians also ruled the stage: Sam Robison as Brad, Amy Tipton as Janet, Anthony Lawson as narrator, Leo Grinberg as Riff-Raff, Caitlin Becka as Magenta, Heather Setzler as Columbia, LaRaisha Burnette as Usherette/Eddie and George Domby as Dr. Scott. Paired with their amazing minions, including an ensemble cast of Patrick Basquill, Khawon Porter and Anna Gamel, among others, the amount of talent onstage read like a Who’s Who of Wilmington. The outcome of their performances was nothing shy of spectacular.
The raunchy romps of the before-show antics had the ensemble crawling Thalian Hall’s poles and slivering through the aisles on the audience’s lap nonetheless. Once the evening’s shenanigans got underway, the oddbell characters of Transylvania antagonized and bitch-slapped everyone into a trance, while all the underlying elements of the show—aliens, sexuality, transvestites, campy songs—kept everyone involved in the cult-classic cat-calls which make “Rocky Horror” so much fun (and the funny kids of Pineapple-Shaped Lamps also happened to be the audience to direct those funny one-liners when needed).
With Chiaki Ito leading the band through the time warp, folks sang along and literally danced all over the theater (the cast and audience alike). “Dammit Janet,” “Sweet Transvestite,” “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me,” and “I’m Going Home” offered a few magnanimous memories which had us all in full-throttle sinalong mode. It was a night of debaucherous fun, perfect for fall’s Halloween-time show.
Other theatre productions kicking up in memorable fashion are Opera House Theatre Production’s “Les Mis” and Pineapple-Shaped Lamps’ “History of Comedy Part 1.” —Shea Carver
Food & Beverage
BAR OVERALL * NEIGHBORHOOD BAR
Opening just over four years ago in 2009, Wilmington’s Best Bar Overall and Best Neighborhood Bar, SATELLITE BAR AND LOUNGE, has solidified itself a fixture on Wilmington’s nightlife scene. Rustic brick walls accentuated by dim lighting set a laid-back vibe. “[We provide] a beer for anyone’s tastes [and] a homey space to enjoy it,” owner Dustin Lee Ricks explains.
Throughout the week locals populate the quaint setting, sipping on IPAs, lagers or stouts, amid delicious Bloody Marys (with pickled okra) or a whiskey or two. Pet-friendly, the bar allows patrons to bring their well-behaved furry companions after a long day at work. As the “Cheers” sentiment goes, Satellite quickly becomes “a place where everybody knows your name.”
With a large, open space, the venue hosts live bands on the weekends. As well, they’ve become especially well-known for their bluegrass nights on Sundays. Two spacious outdoor areas offer movies on some nights during the summer, at the base of the ancient oak tree strung with lights. As well, garage doors typically remain open during warmer months, generating an open-air feel perfect with friends and family.
Familiar drink-slingers line the bar, as well-known bartenders even include local celebs—like He is Legend frontman Schuylar Croom who works there when not touring. “Our establishment is geared toward locals,” Ricks informs. “It makes us very happy to know so many people appreciate what we’ve tried to build here.”
Filling the steins for second and third place for Best Bar Overall are Cape Fear Wine and Beer and Blue Post Billiards and second and third place for Best Neighborhood Bar go to Duck and Dive Pub and Goat and Compass.
LUNCH * DELI * SUB/SANDWICH * SOUP
These guys ripped through Best Of with the most wins of any business. With locations in the heart of Wilmington’s historic downtown, at Monkey Junction, and a soon-to-open Wrightsville Beach spot on Wrightsville Avenue (previously home to Gloria’s Italian Restaurant), Wilmington’s Best Lunch, Best Deli, Best Homemade Soup, and Best Sub/Sandwich goes to CHOP’S DELI.
After meeting each other while working late-night shifts at The Dixie Grill, Chris Graham and Brad Corpening cultivated a mutual respect. The two quickly realized they shared a passion and flair for sandwich-making—exceeding the effort exhibited by most burger slingers. From there the dynamic duo embarked on a trial and error culinary venture of their own. Placing emphasis on pushing boundaries Graham and Corpening began experimenting with sandwiches and soups.
Their efforts culminate in one of Wilmington’s most innovative menus. First-time diners are well advised to disregard their expectations of the traditional delicatessen. Each sandwich fuses ingredients so immaculately that it’s a sin to forego a single component of the sandwich. Their Amsterdam boasts a generous serving of pot roast, melted cheddar and a hearty, thick mushroom gravy that one can pour between the sour dough Kaiser roll at their own discretion.
Another favorite comes in the form of the Plymouth. The signature sandwich combines smoked turkey breast with Havarti, Granny Smith apples, and homemade cranberry relish served on whole wheat. The flavors coalesce so profoundly one is hooked at first bite.
The locally operated deli doesn’t just thrive in the sandwich arena, their mac n’ cheese—which they routinely change up—holds its own. As well, their soups regularly alternate and range from New England clam chowder, to Tomato Basil gazpacho, to chilis and more. They perfectly complement any the sandwiches, too.
Satisfying appetites in second and third place for Best Lunch are Sweet & Savory Bake Shop and Café and Best Panini winner Wayferer Deli and Bistro. On the chopping block for second and third place for Best Sandwich/ Sub are Jimmy John’s and Jersey Mike’s. Wayfarer Deli and Bistro and Taste of Italy are the stiff competition for Best Deli. Best Homemade Soup nods also go to Sweet & Savory Bake Shop & Café and Panera Bread.
The Cape Fear regions hosts an array of dining destinations, and while local eateries provide a unique taste, our city by the sea has its fair share of chains, too. Taking home the gold for Wilmington’s Best Chain Restaurant is BONEFISH GRILL.
Founded in 2000 in St. Petersburg Florida, the seafood restaurant is owned and operated by Bloomin’ Brands, which also head Outback Steakhouse. With a prioritization of quality, they serve market-fresh fish and the crème de la crème of ingredients.
The restaurant’s menu is complete with mahi mahi, sea bass, grouper, trout, salmon and tilapia just to name a few. Rich with flavor, the eatery titillates taste buds with their signature sauces, which include the warm mango salsa—best paired with the Chilean sea bass or the sea scallops and shrimp–or their sweet Asian glaze called Pan Asian. Quick to divulge tricks of their trade, the fish griller’s website even posts recipes for all of their sauces.
Offering a casual dining experience, Bonefish Grill cooks their fish, chicken and steaks over a wood-burning grill. Their tender, flame-lapped meats never fall short on texture. Nominated for est Appetizers, their Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer also constitutes a notable menu item. As well, The Bonefish Grill features a fully stocked bar to complement the meal.
Sizzled to perfection in second and third place are Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse.
BURRITO * TAKE-OUT * FOOD TRUCK
Fresh ingredients fused together in a tightly rolled flour tortilla constitutes ideal cuisine to eat over beers with friends or to conveniently eat on-the-go. Wilmington’s Best Burrito and Best Take-Out goes to FLAMING AMY’S BURRITO BARN, while Best Food Truck goes to FLAMING AMY’S SACRED BURRITO BUS.
Since opening in 2000, owners Jay and Amy Muxworthy have cultivated a relaxed atmosphere that appeals to college students, families or Wilmington’s quirkiest individuals.
“It is hard not to get too comfortable after you have been around a while,” Jay Muxworthy explains. “My constant fear that the people will stop coming keeps me on top of things–or as on top of things as I can be.”
Staying abreast on developments in Wilmington’s culinary scene has resulted in the creation of Flaming Amy’s Sacred Burrito Bus. Muxworthy always follows his gut on issues of expansion. A hot-button issue for food purveyors over the past couple of years, the food truck business has sky-rocketed. Muxworthy’s efforts paid-off when The Sacred Burrito Bus took home the gold for Best Local Food Truck at this past November’s installment of Truck-a-roo.
“You have to do something that you care about; it can’t just be about the money,” Muxworthy declares. Reasonable prices and the restaurant’s contribution to the city demonstrates his passion. The restaurant’s ongoing campaign, Operation Salsa Drop, continues delivering a taste of home across seas to military persons, and they also hold charity functions in house. Recently, the hosted a dinner fund-raiserand gave 10 percent of their profits for the night to local nonprofit Nourish NC.
What’s next for the burrito king remains yet to be seen, though he says a lot of ideas swirl around in his head.
Rolling in for second and third place for Best Burrito are K38 Baja Grill and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Second and third for Best Take-Out go to Indochine and Hibachi To Go, and Patty Wagon and Catch the Food Truck ride in for second and third for Best Food Truck.
With the number of delicatessens that serve our area, garnering enough fanfare to win a coveted “e” award is no easy task. Beating out the competition for Best Panini is WAYFARER DELI & BISTRO.
Crafted by Chef Carey Way, whose owned a bakery/deli in Newington, Connecticut during her formative years, Wayferer boasts delicately balanced sandwiches. With warm, melted-to-perfection cheeses blended with a combination of meat and veggies of your choice, their panini delights regulars and newbies.
“We roast and-or smoke our own meats, prepare every side item, soup and our famous ‘S’mac ‘n Cheese’ from scratch daily, allowing our wonderful ingredients and carefully constructed recipes to speak for themselves,” general manager Ron Suriano edifies.
Since opening in 2010 as a tribute to Chef Carey’s late mother, Maryilyn, the deli has generated over 1,000 different sandwiches. Exploration and a sense of adventure typifies their process when creating something new, whether it’s their weekly bison burger (Wednesdays and Saturdays only) or a panini of the day. In doing so, they foster their goal to stay up-to-date on current culinary developments and create without restrictions. Keeping the menu fresh allows every trip to the restaurant to be as fresh as the ingredients and prevents them from falling victim to the typical trope tired, long-standing menus.
Though Wayferer’s signature is constant innovation, the core of their business is consistency. In keeping with their current methodology, they plan to unveil as many new sandwiches as they can in 2014.
Rounding out the category in second and third are Chop’s Deli and Panera Bread.
BREAD * DESSERTS
When passion fuels and drives the best output, rewards inevitably will follow. Such has been the case for Rob Shapiro, owner of SWEET ‘N SAVORY BAKE SHOP & CAFE, for quite a few years on encore’s reader’s poll. They have taken home awards in a multitude of categories; 2014 crowns them with the Best Bread and Best Desserts in Wilmington.
“Being able to work with food and the joy it brings people and myself provides the base of my passion,” Shapiro says.
The café’s become a local institution, having opened in September 1993. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, rarely can someone walk in the spot without an overflow of joviliaty permeating the dining space off Pavilion Place, near Wrightsville Beach.
“Being able to meet, interact with, and grow close to so many people—guests, staff, suppliers—provides ongoing energy and passion even after all these years,” the restaurateur confirms. “And the day-to-day and long-term challenges and complexity of the business provides never ending-challenges to help prevent any complacency whatsoever.”
In fact, 2012 and 2013 were quite busy for the owner and his chef, Josh Petty. They opened Sweet ‘n’ Savory Pub at 2012 Eastwood Road in the old Kefi spot. The last 18 months have proven to be high-energy running both businesses. But by following his gut instincts and not cutting corners, Shapiro and company are seeing things even out these days in time-management.
“We are constantly evolving,” he says. “All of our menus are updated at least twice a year to adjust for changing customer desires and to keep things fresh, new and interesting.”
The Pub will be focusing on their burgers in 2014. Petty is grinding a blend of short ribs, brisket, chuck, and beef tenderloin. The burgers will come with the customer’s choice of six varieties of their famed homemade bread.
“We’re really going after making the best burger anywhere,” Shapiro says. “Accompanying the burgers will be fresh-cut fries, beer-battered onion rings, and chocolate and vanilla malts.”
At the café, Shapiro and his wife host regular Wednesday wine-tastings, too. They’re offer varietals of all sorts at near grocery-store pricing.
But readers looking to taste the freshest made baguettes, pitas, rolls, or breads, alongside decadent bear claws, pies, cakes, cookies, and brownies need not look any further. Sweet ‘n Savory makes a carb-binger worth it.
“We generally try to avoid gimmicks and what’s hot, and instead focus on offering the absolute best fresh quality product and service at great value every day,” Shapiro says.
Other nominees in the dessert category are Circa 1922 and The Little Dipper; bread nominations also go to Panera Bread and Great Harvest.
For 25 years, Joseph Hou has been running Wilmington’s most famed Chinese restaurant, SZECHUAN 132. Szechuan is a place where one can get delectable cuisine that’s served tableside rather than in take-out boxes. Every meal has been cared for and prepared with only the freshest ingredients, and the service is so attentive, customers will feel like a member of the Hou family by the time they leave.
“I still look forward every morning to going into Szechuan 132,” Hou says, “and having fun and sharing joy with our customers and my restaurant family. The restaurant business is fun and exciting, and can never be described as ‘boring.’”
From their Dang Dang Mien (ground chicken and veggies, stir fried and served over a hot egg noodle) and their lighter nontraditional fare, like rosemary-grilled fish, palates always get sated here. Their menu takes on traditional fare as well as lighter fare for any diner watching her waistline, too.
“[This business] also allows you to be an artist in your own fun, little world,” Hou says. “You can play with different ingredients in the kitchen. You disco, salsa, and jazz food and drinks together to create something that you can showcase to world with pride. This is what I call drunk in love and passion! “
More so than pairing outstanding food with outstanding service, the Hou family pride themselves on constant giveback to their community. Szechuan often works with charities, like Good Shepherd Center and the annual New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s gala.
“Besides serving customers and paying bills, we as human beings have a duty and responsibility to serve others,” Hou says. “Our family’s favorite quote is: ‘God gives us hearts to love and hands to serve.’ Nothing in life can have as positive an impact on a person than giving or serving others. That is because giving and serving are the highest levels of living.”
Hou’s secret to success manifests from his dedication and drive to achieve excellence. In the process, he also stays humbled by the loyalty of customers and opportunities which present themselves. In today’s restaruateur climate, he’s definitely taking notice of food trends. Knowing from where the food comes often drives the Szechuan menu.
“I think, once again, locally sourced meat, seafood, and produce will remain at the top of the trend, as are foods grown in environmentally sustainable methods, food to enhance children’s nutrition, and gluten-free products. Our cuisine will continue to blend together these new trends along with our Southern-comfort traditions,” Hou says.
Constant changes make Hou’s business a love affair for which he never tires. He beams with pride over the constant recognition the public bestows upon Szechuan 132 annually.
“We are very grateful for the recognition we have received for our work because we are very sure that every other nominee for this award was just as capable of winning,” he notes. “As we all know, there are no businesses in the world without hurdles. We are no exception. We face challenges, obstacles, and mistakes along the way, but each setback has only strengthened us and helped to make us a better restauranteur and better people.”
Other Chinese Restaurant nominees include Double Happiness and Chopstix.
PLACE FOR A FIRST DATE
In July 2005 Wilmington’s first fondue restaurant opened downtown at 138 South Front Street: THE LITTLE DIPPER. Since, they’ve been a hotspot among couples, oftentimes starting with a first date and ending with an engagement.
Kristin Groudis, co-owner, says, “We’re passionate about food and wine, and taking moments out of our busy lives to enjoy time with the people we love, which is a big part of the fondue experience. It’s something we wanted to share with others.”
The involvement of dining fondue makes it a shared experience for customers. The melange of veggies and meats, cheeses and breads to dip and dunk, and eat together creates a perfect setting for sharing and divulging. “There’s something very intimate about sharing good food from one pot,” Groudis agrees. “Taking your time eat over multiple courses while truly listening to the person across the table makes The Little Dipper a great place for a first date.”
They also keep the Dipper experience all inthe family so to speak. Just last year The Little Dipper opened a franchise in Durham. Its owner actually had his own first date at the Wilmington restaurant.
“He went on to work for us for five plus years, and over that time, he and his date got married,” Groudis says. “They were both from Durham so they moved back and partnered with us to open that location last April.”
They’re constantly updating specials and theme nights to keep it front-of-mind for diners. From their back-deck dining, always open during spring, summer and fall, as well as new promotions like Monday Local’s Nights, the management strives to keep folks walking through the doors again and again. Plus, they have live music to add to their ambiance, and personalized attention from their staff to help guide diners through their extensive menu and even wine pairings.
“On many occasions we know our customers by name,” Groudis tells. “We want to make sure we bring their favorite items or regular little extras that we know they like before they even have the chance to ask . . . When your staff sees that you’re a hard worker and determined to do whatever it takes to make each night run smooth, they are more likely to respect you and will be proud to work there, in turn helping in whatever way possible to make the business thrive.”
Other first-date hotspots encore readers noticed on our 2014 poll are Indochine and Riverboat Landing.
WRITE-IN CATEGORY: BEER LIST
When Lector Bennett and Maaike Brandis opened CAPE FEAR WINE AND BEER 11 years ago, it existed in a small Water Street storefront where vinyl sounded throughout the room and craft beer kept the two dedicated to their passion. Moving to 139 N. Front Street, the space tripled in size, and their inventory exponentially evolved. It’s no wonder they’ve taken home our newest write-in category for Best Beer List.
“As for the physical beer list itself, I have to credit my awesome business partner Maaike Brandis for that,” Bennett notes. “The elegant and to-the-point beer descriptions, as well as the beer scores, are all her work. We love bringing a great beer selection to Wilmington. The beer world is constantly changing, and we feel honored to be on the cusp of it.”
They focus on limited-edition beers, like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew from Dogfish Head Brewery, as well as stock a vast selection of deliciousness on the regular, from meads to ciders to lambics to stouts to ales and beyond. More importantly, they want to celebrate their love for brew with everyone, and without overlooking anyone.
“We think it is important to make our beer list accessible,” Bennett says. “No one should ever feel intimidated. We are not snobs, dorks, or nerds when it comes to beer. No one has ever been laughed at for ordering a Bud Light.”
However, the shop doesn’t sell the normal industry wares. One won’t find Coors or Budweiser. The point of Cape Fear Wine and Beer is to develop tastes beyond the norm and to show even the chinciest beer drinker that there is a flavor as delectable for his or her palate as the ordinary sellers.
“The industry itself has been evolving,” Bennett notes. “Years ago there were so many beers that we just couldn’t get in Wilmington that were easily available in the Triangle region. Finally, Wilmington is on the beer map and we have access to some great brands. Remember when Dale’s Pale Ale was available in every part of the state except Wilmington?”
Being recognized by the people steers the owners of Cape Fear Wine and Beer to keep evolving and providing the best. Beer Advocate also has recognized them number one in Wilmington. They have flight-night Mondays where folks can taste nine 4-ounce samples for $18. All NC beers are $1 off on Saturdays, while their Sunday Beer Church offers pours on select beer and a free glass with its purchase.
“Cask-ale has been a popular item recently,” Bennett says. “More and more people are in the know about it. What used to be a rare cask-ale event is now a daily occurrence for us. We have our own cooperage, and breweries have been putting together some amazing concoctions for us.”
Other write-in category contenders include Best Dance School for Techniques in Motion and Best Beer List for Ogden Tap Room.
Humanitarian & Environmental
VOLUNTEER * HUMANITARIAN
In high school BO DEAN joined the Key Club, and every Saturday they would visit the home of a young woman with cerebral palsy. While there, they would help pattern her muscles. “I’m not even sure if they still do that today but it was a remarkable experience,” Dean says.
In fact, the incident exposed Dean to the world of philanthropy and how despite differences, we are all alike in the need of human compassion. Dean learned how to give fully.
“Just being there was giving of time and energy, something as equally valuable,” Dean says. “Sharing time with that young girl every Saturday was remarkable, and being with my fellow peers at the time was even more powerful, because we were doing something together.”
Today Dean is the executive director of Access of Wilmington—The Miracle League, which opened its Miracle Field recently. The field offers a chance for all-ability sportsmen and active citizens to have the opportunity to partake in athletics. Two weeks ago they held their first all-abilities race, and had over 600 people show up in support.
“I don’t even think we have scratched the surface on what we can do to be of service to people with disabilities, and to be of service in partnership to create change in the community,” Dean says. “It’s extraordinary the kind of population we have in Wilmington for people with disabilities, and there’s just so much more than we can do. It just takes us working together.”
Dean also donates an extraordinary amount of time volunteering outside of his nonprofit job. He serves on the boards of The Carousel Center, Coastal Horizons and the Rape Crisis Center, as well as the Willie Stargell Foundation. In 2014 he also is the chair of the Heart Walk—something near and dear to his heart, as his dedication to fitness and well-being started two years ago with a great amount of weight-loss.
“By being involved in things that create change for health and wellness, we are feeding back into access for all abilities and for all persons,” Dean says. “That’s what Access is about, and that’s what The Miracle League is about.”
Essentially, to be the best person in physical health means being the best at serving others. To Dean, it’s all about being a part of the solution and accepting responsibility for it. In fact, folks can hear the radio host on Hometown Solutions 95.9 FM every Saturday at 11 a.m. Problem-solving is something his mother inspired him to seek in childhood. She set the example for her children to work on their own terms with determination and intergrity.
“I’ve been very grateful to have her as an example in my life, and I’m constantly surrounding myself with examples like her in this community,” Dean says.
Dean stresses it doesn’t take the donation of $1 million to make a true difference. Whether it’s $1 or giving of time, it all adds up to the greater good. It’s about giving through love, energy, and talents.
“I literally cried all the way back to the Heart Ball after I left the Best Of event,” Dean admits. “I was just overwhelmed and humbled that people thought of me in this way—especially the humanitarian award. I recognize the fact that without having children, I have time to be able to be involved and to volunteer. I am very grateful to be able to have the privilege to be involved in this world.”
Other volunteers recognized locally are Maria Tofelo and Kelli Neese Russell, while humanitarian nods go to Jock Brandis and Kelli Neese Russell.