Let’s call life what it is—messy. And if there’s anything that makes a messy life better, it’s a big ol’ burger. Nobody understands this quite like Sam Steger, who opened Mess Hall at the Outpost in Wilmington’s Cargo District in late July.
We sat down for a chat to get the scoop (of tots).
encore (e): Tell me about your culinary history. I know you were previously at Casa Blanca. Do you own any other restaurants or is Mess Hall your first?
Sam Steger (SS): I’ve been in and out of kitchens around town since I was 16, and I graduated from the culinary program at CFCC in 2013. I was at Pine Valley Market before I took on the chef role at Casa Blanca, and this is the first restaurant that I’ve opened.
e: How did this come to fruition?
SS: I was planning on opening a food truck and was talking to Hayden that owns Queen Street Barbershop about it, and he told me I should talk to Leslie because he was trying to get a kitchen over here. I met with Leslie and hit it off with him, and what I was trying to do worked well with his vision for out here. I was originally going to be in the container that Outpost Coffee Co is in now, but everything kind of evolved and we switched it around, and it just makes even more sense now.
e: The space looks great. Is the design concept yours?
SS: Because my space was the coffee shop before, the design was already done and matched my vibe pretty well, so I just had to do some stuff to get it to pass for the health department and get all my equipment in.
e: Do you have any partners?
SS: I don’t have any partners, me and my wife were able to make the best of some unfortunate circumstances when two trees fell on our house during two different hurricanes. We were able to recover from that, and it actually helped us to be able to afford to start the business.
e: How’s breakfast going so far?
SS: We actually aren’t starting breakfast until the 17th. We’ve been a bit busier than I was anticipating right off the bat, so I made the decision to hold off for a few weeks so we could all get comfortable with lunch and dinner before we took breakfast on.
e: Do you serve beer, wine, and spirits, or can folks just grab something tasty and boozy from Alcove?
SS: We let Alcove handle all the alcohol, but we do have kombucha from Panacea Brewing on tap, and we will have cold brew coffee on tap as well when we start breakfast.
e: How did you get linked up with The Cargo District?
SS: Hayden from Queen Street Barbershop has cut me and my son’s hair for a while, and he was one of our regulars at Casa Blanca, so by knowing the right people at the right time.
e: What’s the most popular dish?
SS: The most popular dish every day so far has been The Samburger, which is actually how I convinced my wife to let me open a restaurant. She doesn’t like burgers, but I made her try one, and she asks me to make them all the time now.
e: Any plans to expand the menu? Milkshakes?
SS: We have a pretty small kitchen, so I’m trying to keep the menu as simple and efficient as possible, but I really love milkshakes and think that they would add to the messy diner vibe that our menu has, so that’s definitely on my radar.
e: And, I gotta know, where did the name come from?
SS: My goal from the beginning has been to serve messy food, and that combined with being in an old Quonset hut called the Outpost just made Mess Hall sound right.