SIMPLY THE BEST! TIPPING OUR HATS TO THE CREME DE LA CREME OF WILMINGTON

Mar 17 • ARTSY SMARTSY, BEST OF WILMINGTON, COVER STORY, Drink Features, FEATURE MAIN, Food FeaturesNo Comments on SIMPLY THE BEST! TIPPING OUR HATS TO THE CREME DE LA CREME OF WILMINGTON

Businesses, artists, thespians, chefs, theatre companies, musicians, humanitarians, environmental groups, media: They’re all recognized as the town’s best hot shots in encore’s annual reader’s poll—a poll that has been taking place well over 25 years in Wilmington. To put it simply: We hold the official “Best Of” moniker.

In 2015, we culled over 20,000 voices to weigh in on their thoughts about the Best Of Wilmington. Nominations opened in mid-November and closed in mid-December 2014, before final voting opened mid-December and closed mid-January 2015. All voting was done by the community-at-large through our online voting system, featuring over 130 categories. We try to be as fair as possible, and while we encourage local businesses and groups to campaign so their patrons/fans 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 fundraiser. This year’s event was held at Brooklyn Arts Center on February 28 and benefitted DREAMS of Wilmington—a local nonprofit and multidisciplinary arts program for at-risk youth (see our cover story from encore’s February 26 edition for full info on DREAMS; www.dreamsofwilmingon.org). Thanks to 550 tickets sold, numerous raffles, a Best Of Battle of the Bands, and a live text-to-donate program, DREAMS raised more than $11,000 and will take in $7,200 after expenses. This money allows them to accept 45 students into their three-week summer intensive arts program.

Our Best Of hosts, comedy troupe Pineapple-Shaped Lamps (this week’s dashing cover models), entertained with a plethora of sketches across every category of award-winners—all set to a  “Back to the ‘80s” theme. Aside from nailing spot-on impressions of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures,” they ensured audiences were rolling in laughter during their “Flashdance” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” interpretive dance numbers. And a bonus: Those funny Pineapple kids also got to know DREAMS’ students via videos they made for the show. More so, they will be volunteering with DREAMS this summer!

We laughed a ton and stuffed ourselves silly, thanks to food passed around throughout the evening—all provided from our numerous nominees in the food and beverage categories. We danced the night away with DJ KB spinning everything from “Under Pressure” to “Rich Girl,” and especially to the bands L Shape Lot and The Midatlantic, who were duking it out for final votes during the ceremony as Best Band. While L Shape Lot came out on top, it did not deter the camaraderie between these Americana/bluegrass acts. They closed out the night in a finale together with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” As well, DREAMS music teacher Laura McLean and her band the New Riders of Calamity took the stage and killed it, especially with a smokin’ rendition of “She Bop.”

Blueberry Creative caught all the fun on film! (So be sure to check out the pictures in the next four editions of encore, wherein we announce all winners.) Folks were dressed to the nines in ‘80s gear, including our crowned king and queen—as picked by TJ Dunn, founder of Wilmington Fashion Week, and judged by audience applause. Christian Podgaysky as Boy George and Stacia Sylvester donned all the right classics from the era, acid-wash jeans and fanny pack included.

Welcome, Best Of Wilmington class of 2015!

Goods & Services

VETERINARIAN

Family-owned and -oriented, doctors Ron and Sharon Harris opened Porters Neck Veterinary Hospital in 1999 in a strip mall near their current location (8129 Market St.). The Harrises wanted to operate a place revered for its medical excellence and affordability, but also with a staff who put emphasis on compassionate care for patient and client.

“We’re in it for the outcome, not the income,” Sharon says. “Helping pet guardians make the best decisions for their pets and family is our passion.”

With that in mind, they’ve culled a loyal clientele that revolves around long-term bonds. Over 16 years, they also have expanded services and staff to focus on more advanced medical care. “We plan to add home-visit services, which will include home euthanasia and home hospice care, as well as some wellness services [in the coming year,]” medical director Matthew Resnick, DVM, says. “We are also planning to expand our grooming services.”

The hospital is personally invested in everyone who walks through their doors. Living in such a warm and wet climate on the coast means certain factors must be closely monitored to ensure pet safety. On the top of this list is flea, tick and heartworm treatment.

“There are more products available than ever before, and they do not all work equally well,” Resnick discloses. “ The majority of parasite infections we see are due to a lack of compliance from pet owners in administering these preventatives on schedule and poor product choice. Many clients do not even realize they have missed any months of prevention. Proheart 6, an injectable heartworm prevention that lasts six months has resolved compliance issues for many of our clients, while a new palatable oral flea/tick preventative called ‘Bravecto’ that lasts three months has helped with prevention of those surprise flea infestations that Wilmington is so known for. It also means only four doses a year instead of 12 doses of an alternative, monthly product.”

As any pet owner knows, a scratch-free pet is a happy pet. And when pets head to Porter’s Neck Animal Hospital, they often leave healthy and happy. For those pets in need, Porter’s Neck goes the extra mile to offer help.

“We have a good samaritan fund that is always accepting donations and is used 100 percent to help pets in need,” Resnick notes. “We also work with several rescue organizations including Tarheel Weimeramer rescue.”

The folks at the hospital recognize the value of prestige offered from encore’s reader’s poll. Aside from anxiously awaiting delivery of the paper every Wednesday, the staff is grateful to be ranked on top, considering the vast amount of stellar animal care offered locally.

“Wilmington is very fortunate to have many excellent veterinarians and support staff, including specialists,” Resnick says. “To be voted number one among our many esteemed colleagues is an immense honor. The Wilmington community is especially supportive of locally owned and operated businesses. . . . A vote from encore readers is a vote from our community and peers and is the ultimate compliment.”

Other veterinarians making it to the list include A Country Vet and Atlantic Animal Hospital.

BOOK STORE

Wilmington’s iconic family-owned book store continues raking in the wins in 2015: Old Books on Front Street has been serving downtown (and beyond) since 1982. What was once Daughtry’s Old Books beckoned current owner Gwenyfar Rohler from an early age.

BOOKENDING THE BEST: Encore staff and friends celebrate with Gwenyfar Rohler, owner of Old Books on Front Street, for winning Best Book Store. Photo by Blueberry Creative

BOOKENDING THE BEST: Encore staff and friends celebrate with Gwenyfar Rohler, owner of Old Books on Front Street, for winning Best Book Store. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“I began shopping there when I was 2,” she admits. “Nine years ago, he called my dad and said he wanted me to buy the store. I went into business with my parents, cared for both of them through their final illnesses (which having a family business gave me the scheduling flexibility to be able to do), and now have a tremendous legacy to keep alive and vibrant.”

Rohler and her current dedicated staff are ensuring the book store stays as much a part of downtown’s streets as its always been. Once located at 22 N. Front Street, the store was forced to move from its dilapidating building and reopened at 249 N. Front Street. Regardless of place, its staff runs it to help positively influence literacy, privacy, small business, art, and the love of community.

“As a writer myself [Rohler is encore’s Live Local columnist and theatre reviewer], I have had so much help from others that when I can help out someone else who is up and coming, it is a great feeling,” she says. She does so by initiating readings at the store frequently, hosting events like Banned Books Week, Bloomsday (a celebration of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”) and Couplet—a two-day poetry festival that will take place April 18-19. There will be workshops, book launches, readings, and performances by Up All Night Theatre Co. Plus, Rohler launched an in-house micro press, New Books on Front Street.

“We are so busy with happenings,” Rohler enthuses. “I feel like any day or night of the week you can walk in and we have something to offer.”

While perusing the miles and miles of books, customers can imbibe on one of many literary-themed libations, such as Poet Stout, Chaucer Meade or an Oberon Ale. They can inquire about every third Monday’s Flick or Fiction Book Club. On Wednesdays customers can enjoy “ABCs with Susan,” wherein they make a craft, drink beer and eat cookies. On Fridays live piano music with James Jarvis can be enjoyed.

Though it may leave little time to continuously unload her massive inventory—literally thousands and thousands of books—it doesn’t keep Rohler from pushing forward new and exciting ideas. In fact, Old Books will be unveiling a Literary History Walking Tour this spring/summer, and will restock their local section to coincide with stops on the tour. “We are trying to really make sure we curate it and develop it,” Rohler states.

The tour will cover the history of two downtown libraries, book settings, characters, famous writers and more, all over 90 minutes. They’ll visit Mrs. Kipling’s house and discuss the works of Rudyard Kipling, as well as mosey to the former Orton Hotel, Cape Fear Men’s Club, and the armory for Charles Chestnutt’s “The Marrow of Tradition.” They’ll discuss local author Philip Gerard’s “Cape Fear Rising” and John Sayles’ “A Moment in the Sun.” Folks can buy tickets online at http://oldbooksonfrontst.com.

“It is so hard to put into words just how important winning Best Book Store is to us,” Rohler says. “We were the first independent bookstore to break the stranglehold that Barnes and Nobel had on the category. We never take it for granted and try continually to make progress and earn this. Thank you so very much.  It can be dispiriting as an independent bookstore when people have the bad manners to walk in and tell you that you should just give up and close the doors because Kindles are taking over. To receive and acknowledgement like this makes all the hard work of the incredible staff worthwhile.”

Voters also secure their reads from Pomegranate Books and Two Sisters Bookery.

WOMEN’S CLOTHING

Badass designer and powerhouse business owner Jessie Williams has operated Wilmington’s hip Edge of Urge since 2002. What started as a waterfront store on the Riverwalk of downtown Wilmington has grown into two shops and a successful online retail store, reaching thousands of women looking to update their threads. Williams had been searching endlessly for a creative outlet to sell her own work when she decided to open her own boutique. Yet, she didn’t want it to be any ol’ ordinary place that would dress all women alike.

DRESSING THE BEST: Michael Ussery gets silly behind the Best Women’s Clothing win for Edge of Urge. Photo by Blueberry Creative

DRESSING THE BEST: Michael Ussery gets silly behind the Best Women’s Clothing win for Edge of Urge. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“I wanted to create a launching platform for independent design, a place where ingenuity and authenticity hold a higher value than trends or brand names,” Williams says. “For us, fashion is about self-expression and being comfortable in your own skin. For the past 13 years, we’ve been dedicated to growing and cultivating this supportive community!”

In fact, just last year Williams decided to go big and expand Edge of Urge into another North Carolina market, all the while maintaining her Wilmington flagship store. Raleigh welcomed the new shop in the fall of 2014. 

“We are also excited to announce we have acquired a pretty neat little Shasta to ride around in and spread the EOU love around the state and beyond,” she quips. 2015 will continue to bring about new adventures, too, as Williams launches The Mama Bear Project.

“For 13 years, we’ve worked to not just sell handmade goods and the work of independent designers, but to also aid in growing their brands, perfecting products and providing that launching pad to the next level.  Now, we will be broadening this initiative by helping designer cubs with their hustle! We will be launching a website and Kickstarter soon to set this into motion.”

In the meantime, they remain focused on assorting products to meet all their customer’s needs and wants. They always are on the hunt for new and exciting wares.

“Our customers value quality and individuality no matter what,” Williams says, “so in fluctuating times, when we know folks are looking for more bang for their buck, we focus on versatility and longevity.”

For instance, they’ll stock boots that folks can wear daily, with everything. Williams will design with reversible fabrics for dresses and swimwear to add versatility to the wardrobe.

“We want our customers to get the most out of their purchase and leave feeling good about supporting their local economy,” she notes. “More and more consumers are increasingly taking note of where items are made and how supporting local businesses positively impacts their community all the way up to a global level.”

Spreading their local love, Edge of Urge also recognizes power in numbers. Thus, they team up with other NC-based organizations and businesses, such as Freaker, Rx Restaurant, DREAMS of Wilmington, and NourishNC, among others.

“We love our hometown and all the folks that come together and support their community,” she says. “There is something magical about the blend of backgrounds and culture that make up Wilmington. This acknowledgement makes us feel like a magical unicorn. As a business and as a team working hard together to provide a service in the community, this award reminds us that our efforts are being felt by our customers, and it motivates us to keep striving and hustling!”

Ladies of Wilmington also love shopping at Island Passage and Hallelu. 

MASSAGE THERAPIST

Massage therapy wasn’t always in the cards for Shelley Lancaster, Wilmington’s Best Massage Therapist for 2015. In fact, she entered the working world out of UNCW when she took a job at GE Nuclear in their uranium lab (she studied chemistry and biology). After realizing the corporate world wasn’t fulfilling, Lancaster became the office manager for a friend’s private dental practice. Here she remained for 20 years and enjoyed the one-on-one relationships she garnered with clients, as well as seeing the positive effects proper healthcare had on their lives. So when her friend closed the practice, Lancaster decided to continue helping people and went back to school for massage therapy at 40 years old.

“It took several years for me to find my way to massage as a career,” Lancaseter admits. “Upon graduating from UNCW, I realized allopathic medicine was not my true hearts desire. Five years later I began to receive massage therapy weekly. It was then that I experienced the healing power of massage. The benefits were not only physical but emotional and spiritual.”

Today, she is helping clients reduce pain level and increase clarity at Relax! Massage Therapy (4000 Oleander Drive, Suite 2-A). She does therapeutic and healing work, as well as medical massage and cupping therapy.

“It is rewarding to spread the knowledge of the powerful benefits of massage therapy and how it greatly reduces stress and pain without harmful side effects,” she says. “Massage should be a part of all of our wellness programs.”

By working the mind-body balance, Lancaster strives to continuously improve her education while also sharpening her intuition skills with every client. The act of listening goes a long way in her job.

“When they describe their goals, [I use] touch and intuition [to] listen to their body’s messages,” she says. “Based on that information, I provide a treatment that is customized to meet their needs [during] that session.”

In 2015 she will continue to expand her certifications. She plans to add assessments and knowledge gained from the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Corrective Exercise Specialist Training and Golf Fitness Training. Her goal is help each client reach greater balance, prevent injury and improve performance in daily life and athletic endeavors.

“I am honored and thrilled to be nominated, but more shocked and elated to win [the ‘e,’]” Lancaster notes. “I am filled with gratitude to my clients and all who took the time to cast a vote. Thank you, all! Encore’s Best Of is the award you dream of receiving. For years I’ve used the Best Of as a guide to great businesses in the Wilmington community. . . . I love Wilmington clientele! Wilmington is filled with great people with an appreciation for quality service.”

Other massage therapists kneeding the list include Mary Beth Redman (of Mary Beth Redman Massage and Bodywork)  and Theresa Stevens (Coastal Massage and Bodywork).

TRAINER

“Working out is what I do,” Lamaine Williams of The Fitness Squad says. “The love of exercise is my gift from God.”

LET’S SHOUT! LET’S WORK OUT! Lamaine Williams takes home his seventh win for Best Trainer in the 2015 reader’s poll. Photo by Blueberry Creative

LET’S SHOUT! LET’S WORK OUT! Lamaine Williams takes home his seventh win for Best Trainer in the 2015 reader’s poll. Photo by Blueberry Creative

Williams began his journey as a personal trainer 16 years ago when he became certified in 1999. His focus always has been on specialized goal training, weight loss and advanced bodyweight exercises. And, as they say: Hard work pays off. This is Williams’ seventh Best Of win in a row; he’s held the official Best Trainer title since 2009.

“I feel as a trainer you have to continue to grow in the fitness field,” Williams says. “I believe in knowing what’s the new thing but weeding out the fads that don’t really work.”

Though he has studied movement patterns, flexibility and range of motion in recent years, he sticks to the basics to ensure client results. He always includes weight training and cardio. “Weight training has been proven to be beneficial when it comes to muscles, bone density, looks, and over all health,” he says. “I mix the two.”

Functional training is popular among clients currently, wherein they specialize in a certain movement to lead to better joint mobility and stability, as well as more efficient motor patterns. “You get to incorporate different moves and different fitness tools,” he says.

Living in an active beach town means Williams’ business continues to thrive. Moreso, he has grown a loyal fanbase (including that of newscaster Frances Weller) who looks for his insight and expertise.

“It feels good that Wilmington knows, recognizes and votes for me,” he boasts. “I share information with the public through social media. I post informative videos, and I do tutorials on Facebook. Being voted as Best Personal Trainer means I have a responsibility to my city. I need to continously put out information for everybody, not just my personal clients.”

Other fitness trainers pushing in the votes include Bronson Apple (Gold’s Gym) Angie Oakley (Wilmington Lady Fitness). —Shea Carver

HAIR SALON and NAIL SALON

As Dolly Parton says in “Steel Magnolias,” “There’s no such thing as natural beauty.” While the sentiment is a stretch, Donnie Canady, owner of Tanglez Salon and Spa, has been beautifying the population for over 30 years. After managing two salons at Independence Mall,  he set up his own brick-and-morter just down the way on Oleander Drive, beside Pizzetta’s Pizza. Firing up hair dryers and sharpening scissors, Tanglez officially opened its doors in January 2009. With six years in the biz, they took home the monikers Best Hair Salon and Best Nail Salon this year.

FILED FOR THE WIN: Carolina Cardenas and Donnie Canady accept two wins for Tanglez Salon and Spa this year: Best Salon and Best Nail Salon. Photo by Blueberry Creative

FILED FOR THE WIN: Carolina Cardenas and Donnie Canady accept two wins for Tanglez Salon and Spa this year: Best Salon and Best Nail Salon. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“I am still amazed at how quickly it has grown,” owner Canady says. “There’s nothing more gratifying than making someone feel good about themselves.”

From the second a customer walks in, a doting staff of expert stylists ensures everyone has a memorable, relaxing experience. Thirteen stations and 15 staff members ushered in Tanglez existence. Now, they have grown to 23 stations and a staff of over 30. The NC State Board’s requirement that stylists receive eight hours of continuing education each year has kept staff members abreast of the latest trends. (They’ve attended classes and received 20 hours thus far in 2015). Canady reminds that without the dedication of his staff, Tanglez would be nothing more than a building. For the locally owned and family-operated business, forging relationships and lasting connections takes precedence.

“My parents taught us to always be kind to everyone you meet,” Canady says. “That is advice that everyone at Tanglez lives by, and I believe that is one reason we have been so successful in this industry.”

Whether needing airbrush makeup, spray-tanning, facials, body wraps, a waxing, color, or a simple trim, Tanglez is a one-stop shop for beauty. (Their lavish offerings even earned them a nod in the Best Spa category.) They added their nail salon shortly after they opened, and since it’s evolved to forego the noisy pedicure thrones (complete with jetted foot basins). Instead, they utilize a clean, sleek bowl with disposable liners to adds to the pampering experience.

Likewise, they set themselves apart locally by being one of the few locales carrying Opalex. The innovative technology allows stylists to lighten hair without compromising it. Recently, they’ve personalized coloring treatments by adding Lanza Healing Hair Color, which gives clients more color options.

“We have also noticed men showing more interest in their hair,” Canady informs, “and we have been attending barbering classes to cater to our male clientele.”

However, the biggest trend in the hair biz now is a new highlighting technique called ‘balayage.’ The free-hand technique permits highlights to be applied directly to the hair rather than by using tin foil. “It allows for a more natural, lived in result, with softer, less noticeable regrowth,” Canady adds.

Staying true to his mother’s words, Canady and the Tanglez team relish every opportunity to give back to the community as well. From cut-a-thons that benefit local cancer patients to a fantasy fashion show that aids the Yahweh Children’s Center, Tanglez stays busy spreading its roots throughout the community. They even donate salon and spa services to charities each and every week.

“As a native Wilmingtonian, I can’t imagine working anywhere else,” Canady proclaims.  “Wilmington is ‘home,’ and we love to participate in and help out as many other local businesses and nonprofits as we possibly can.”

Layering on the polish in the number two and three spots for Best Nail Salon are All Polished Up and QT Nails. Rockin’ Roller Hair Salon and Bangz are close behind in the Best Hair Salon category.

BEST ADULT STORE

Love makes the world go round, and for men, women and couples, Adam and Eve serves up a whole lotta romance. Their 10th year in business and their eighth year in Wilmington, they’ve once again won Best Adult Store.

“We continue our mission to provide an upscale, discreet and enjoyable shopping experience for our customers every day,” vice president of sales Teresa Webb says. “[Winning] feels great!  We have seen many new customers coming in based on the valued opinion of [encore] readers!”

From lubricants to lingerie, toys to adult movies, Adam and Eve has anything and everything to add a little oomph to any special night. Much like Goldie Locks picking out her bed, locals can choose from an array of lubricants. Water-based, silicon-based, anal-specific, and flavored are all featured in the store. As well, they carry various colognes and scents to set the mood. Costumes, bondage toys and more are perfect to infuse a little fun into the relationship. Novices need not be nervous when venturing into the store for the first time; the expert staff handles every customer with respect and helps them find just the right item for the utmost pleasure.

“Our staff is extremely knowledgeable and up-to-date on the latest products and trends,” Webb says. “We attend trade shows and seminars regularly, so that we can ensure our customers receive the best and most current information and products on the market!”

Currently the biggest trending items on the market are toys with apps, like the We-Vibe 4. The high-tech toy can be utilized using one’s phone from anywhere in the world. The We-Vibe 4 also is just one of the “green” toys that have found traction in the market. Rechargeable toys are good for individuals, couples and the environment.

“We love Wilmington,” Webb expresses. “Adam and Eve regularly supports our local nonprofit organizations and other small local businesses in our area. Wilmington is a beautiful city and we are very proud to be part of the community! Thank you to our wonderful customers for your continued support!”

Spyces and Priscilla McCall’s placed second and third in Best Adult Store.

CAR WASH

Since 1998 Cruisers Car Wash has been keeping everything on four wheels in Wilminton squeaky clean. As a result, the longstanding establishment has been taking home the gold for Best Car Wash since the category made its debut on the reader’s poll, resulting in 12 consecutive wins.

“We have a keen focus on quality service in a friendly, happy atmosphere,” Clayton Gsell, president of Crusiers, says. “We love our customers, and we consider them family and friends. It feels very special to know that our customers respect our work and trust us with their vehicles. We work hard daily to make sure we make customers happy, and if and when we make a mistake, we fix it—no questions asked. We respect every customer.”

Open seven days a week, Cruisers passion shines through as smiling customers get their rides cleaned inside and out. The basic wash, which includes thorough vacuuming, an exterior clean, bug removal, a soft-cloth wash, a high-pressure wheel clean, a high-speed dry, hand-dry service, interior dusting, window cleaning, and door jamb clean, comes in at a mere $13.50 ($2 more for trucks, vans and SUVs). Likewise, the platinum-plus wash comes in at $33.95 and includes all the services of the basic wash, plus a full dressing inside and out, fragrance to get that new-car smell again, and much more. No matter what the car needs, Cruisers has it covered.

“We have a great team of highly motivated employees,” Gsell tells. “We also operate all locations (South College, Oleander Dr. and Southport) using state-of-the-art equipment.”

They are adding new equipment at their South College location even. As well, they recently purchased a self-serve wash on Shipyard that will feature four self-serve bays, complete with both a touch-free and cloth in bay. Though improvements and providing more options for their loyal clientele, as always, tops their list of priorities in 2015, continuing their generous support of the community also will be one of their big goals. “We give away literally hundreds of car washes and details, and we have a very successful fundraising program for nonprofits,” Gsell informs.

The program asks schools, churches, scouts, and charities to sell $20 gift certificates for Crusiers. In return, they get to keep 25 percent of the proceeds. Interested organizations can check out www.crusierscarwashnc.com for full details.

“Our business is very simple: focus, focus, focus on quality customer service,” Gsell concludes. “We want every customer to be a long-term patron.”

Making cars shiny in second and third place are Buff Masters and Mister Sudzy.

SHOPPING PLAZA

Warm and inviting, Mayfaire Town Center opens its arms to shoppers, diners and movie-goers in the Port City. The expansive town-within-a-town first opened in 2004, and has grown to include over 70 retailers and 20 restaurants. As well, they’ve erected a plethora of state-of-the-art condos and apartment complexes. The hustle and bustle of the quaint little Wilmington escape has earned them Best Shopping Plaza, a moniker they’ve taken home for several years.

SHOPPING THE GOLD: Paige Somervell of Mayfaire Town Center accepted the award again for Best Shopping Plaza 2015 at the encore awards party held Feb. 28 at Brooklyn Arts Center. Photo by Blueberry Creative

SHOPPING THE GOLD: Paige Somervell of Mayfaire Town Center accepted the award again for Best Shopping Plaza 2015 at the encore awards party held Feb. 28 at Brooklyn Arts Center. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“The impetus of Mayfaire was to design a unique, special and timeless mixed-use project near the beach in Wilmington,” Paige Somervell, director of marketing for Mayfaire, tells. “Developers had a wonderful vision to create a truly unique place that captured the essence of shop, dine, live, play, and stay.”

The shoppers paradise has it all. Book lovers can peruse the endless shelves at Barnes and Noble, and fashionistas can skim the racks of Francesca’s, Ann Taylor, Gap, Banana Republic, Belk, and more. Bargain shoppers also can find deals on deals at the newly opened Marshalls, and sports fanatics can find the essentials at the new Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Why stop there? Why not have a delicious meal while out on the town? From Roko to Fox and Hound, from The Melting Pot to On the Boarder, folks can sink their cuspids into some of Wilmington’s most savory eateries. After all shopping is done and bellies are full, families, couples and friends can endcap the night by catching the latest blockbuster at Regal Cinemas Mayfaire Stadium 16 and IMAX.

“Our goal is to provide customers with the best personal attention possible and offer experts who can help with any and all of their needs,”  Somervell says. “We could not have achieved our dream of developing a place that is welcoming to all demographics with such a diverse list of needs without the support of the community.”

Mayfaire thanks the loyal community of supporters through fundraising and awareness-raising events throughout the year. The Cape Fear Heart Walk and the JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes are just a couple examples. In April they will play home to the fifth annual Coastal Run/Walk for Autism, and they will host the famed Budweiser Clydesdales, as they deliver ales galore to participating Mayfaire retailers. As well, their event lawn offers a picturesque spot to listen to great tunes over the summer, during Mayfaire’s Music on the Town Summer Concert Series. There’s certainly no shortage of fun to be had at Mayfaire Town Center.

Coming in 2015 will be the completion of the final phase of the Mayfaire Community Center. It will include PetSmart, Sleepy’s, Lily Nicole & Co., Positalia Eatery, and more. Likewise, smartphones have become an immeasurably successful marketing tool, allowing customers to conveniently check for store sales and special events.

“It’s cliché, but we love the people,” Somervall says. “Mayfaire has a world of options. We cater to everyone by making sure everything you need is close by.”

Hanover Center and Lumina Station round out the Best Shopping Plaza category this year.

      —Christian Podgaysky

Arts, Media, and Entertainment

LOCAL TOUR

The soothing sound of plodding hooves can be heard traversing the streets of downtown Wilmington thanks to year-round horse-drawn carriage tours put on by Springbrook Farms Inc. Begun 28 years ago as an alternative to the auction block for unwanted Percheron draft horses, they’ve saved 16 horses thus far.

SMILES FOR MILES: Ash Maguire and Jill Tefft smile for the camera at the ‘80s Party, hosted by Best Of beneficiary DREAMS Center for Arts Education, wherein Tefft serves as development and administrative assistant. Photo by Blueberry Creative

SMILES FOR MILES: Ash Maguire and Jill Tefft smile for the camera at the ‘80s Party, hosted by Best Of beneficiary DREAMS Center for Arts Education, wherein Tefft serves as development and administrative assistant. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“Unwanted draft horses are a forgotten part of the horse industry,” owner/operator John Pucci reminds. “Saving these horses’ lives, educating people about the draft horses’ plight, and watching them live a long, healthy life on our farm [top our mission].”

Horse-drawn carriage and trolley tours run daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. April through October. From November to March, their tours gallop off on Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tours are $12 per person and $5 per child under 12. Group and private tours also are available.

Staying true to compassion shown toward horses, they rotate the horses in and out: Each horse only spends one week a month downtown, and two to three weeks ranging the pasture at Springbrook Farms. As well, all horses are under the special care of equine veterinarians. Plus, they offer a special wedding package, complete with a French evening coach and decorations. Details can be found at www.horsedrawntours.com.

“[We thrive on] providing our rescued horses with the very best of everything, and our customers the same,” Pucci tells.

Looking toward 2015, Pucci and company simply hope to rescue another draft horse. This comes in addition to the work they’ve already done to educate their customers about the rescue mission and dispelling misinformation about horses.

“The more locals acknowledge what we are doing, the better we feel, and the better they feel about supporting our rescue” Pucci proclaims. “By winning the award, the publicity and increase in awareness not only helps us but helps the horses.”

Showing off the beauty of Wilmington in second and third place are Ghost Walk and The Brew Bus.

THEATRE PRODUCTION COMPANY

There’s nothing like a night at the theatre. The diversified productions that take over Wilmington stages throughout the year provide an escape and often enlighten on life’s important lessons. This year Thalian Association, headed by executive director Susan H. Habas and artistic director David T. Loudermilk, have once again won the locals’ hearts and taken home the gold for Best Theatre Production Company.

Upstarting in 1788, Thalian Association is a centuries-old collective for Wilmington. It began as a way to procure funds for North Carolina’s first free school, Innes Academy, by producing shows.

“In 2007 the North Carolina legislature named the Thalian Association State Community Theater of North Carolina in honor of our long history of nurturing the civic, cultural and social life of the Cape Fear region,” Habas says. “Today the tradition of providing performing arts and education continues with 13 theatrical productions on multiple stages, civic contributions and community outreach programs! We are grateful to be here for the community that has always supported us.”

Catering to local theatre-goers, ranging in age from 6 to 60-plus, is no easy feat. Choosing what will work for each season is a time-consuming process that aims to achieve a balance between the classics and contemporary Broadway productions. Likewise, Thalian’s heads also must take into account their three different venues, Red Barn Theatre Studio, Thalian Hall and the Hannah Block USO/Community Arts Center.

“We also examine if the venue is fitting for the performance, as well as our casting pool, but in a thriving theatre community such as Wilmington, we always have new and exciting artists appearing that allow us to explore many new endeavors,” Loudermilk elaborates.

This season featured classics like “Peter Pan” and “A Christmas Carol” at Thalian Hall and the biographical show “Red” at Red Barn Studio over the summer. Currently, Thalian is working on the socially conscious drama, “Clybourne Park.” Looking toward 2015, locals need to hold onto their hats, as the raucous, politically infused, Green Day rock ‘n’ roll musical “American Idiot” comes to stage.

As well, “The Addams Family” will also be premiering, while “Mame” will be making its return to the Port City after nearly ten years. “Death of a Salesman” and “Noises Off” round out this coming season’s offerings. They also plan to have something similar to Thrifty Thursdays, which entails discounted tickets on Thursdays at Thalian Hall shows, this upcoming season.

Aside from delivering compelling shows, Thalian also strives to  introduce the arts to various organizations around Wilmington. Managing the HBHUSO/Community Arts building since 1994, they allow local nonprofits and arts instructors to use the facilities for class, meeting and rehearsal space for little or no cost. In 1995 they also began the Orange Street ArtsFest, which is held every Memorial Day weekend, to bring attention to the arts center, downtown Wilmington and the visual arts.

As well, their children’s theatre program has 34 years under its belt, and exposes local youth to a theatre curriculum that’s in accordance with the National Standards for Arts Education and the NC Common Core. It boasts leadership programs, scholarships, school performances, and a parents organization.

In a similar vein, Theater 4 Change, Thalian Association’s outreach program, also gives kids the opportunity to experiment with theatre arts through six weekly classes at the Community Boys and Girls Club, where they hold Theater 4 Change performances, and D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy. The program also performs special shows for the students of Snipes Academy of Arts and Design.

“One of our main goals is to make the joy and excitement of live theater more accessible to everyone in our community,” Habas says. “Wilmington has such a vibrant theater community that it is an honor simply to be one of the ‘Best Of’ nominees. We are very thankful for the loyal support of our audiences and determined to celebrate their support by continuing to produce the very best of Community Theater. Thalian Association Community Theater is only possible because of the amazingly talented and generous actors and technicians who are part of our family. They are the true ‘Best Of.’”

City Stage and Opera House Theatre Company also pleased crowds in the Best Theatre Production Company category.

        —Christian Podgaysky

NEWSCASTER and NEWSCAST

During her senior year in college at UNC Chapel Hill, Frances Weller—encore’s 2015 Best Newscaster—knew broadcast journalism would be her career pursuit. Coming home to Wilmington and taking a job at WECT—Best Newscast, according to our reader’s poll—wasn’t just a natural choice. It was her call: to serve the people and places that grew near and dear to her heart throughout childhood. She has been dedicated to delivering the news nightly for 32 years now.

NEWBIES ON THE LIST! encore’s newest write-in category for 2016 will be: Best Donut Shop. And for 2015, the majority voted for Carolina Beach’s newest addition, Wake n Bake. Photo by Blueberry Creative

NEWBIES ON THE LIST! encore’s newest write-in category for 2016 will be: Best Donut Shop. And for 2015, the majority voted for Carolina Beach’s newest addition, Wake n Bake. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“I think it’s something I learned from my mother: just be real,” she says of her loyal fanbase. “When I’m reporting the news, I’m talking to friends. I really don’t ever think I’m talking to strangers. I just think I have a connection to this community that makes it easy to communicate.”

The people, places and her undying passion for Wilmington have kept Weller grounded throughout her time on air. And when her 1,000-watt smile flashes across the screen, she says it comes as naturally as breathing.

“It always amazes me when relatives or friends come to visit from other cities and states and and are blown away by how friendly everyone is in Wilmington,” she says. “I always smile because I’ve never known anything else. The people, for the most part, are kind and caring. And it makes loving Wilmington easy.”

While reporting the daily happenings, good and bad, at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., are first and foremost to the anchor’s concern, evolving with the industry changes also remains important. Just in the past decade, how the public receives their news is less about delivering it via TV.

“The race to report it first is [important on] the much smaller screens, as in tablets and smartphones,” she says. “To get it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and [through] text alerts!”

WECT’s social-media sites are updated on a constant basis with shorter stories ready to update readers on latest and breaking news. Their app delivers minute-by-minute headlines and allows users access to weather, investigations, health stories, and more at their fingertips. However, the personal connection with viewers is something Weller says cannot be replaced.

“Nothing will ever take the place of a live newscast, in my opinion,” she says. “Social media/digital is instant but it’s a snapshot. That good old-fashioned newscast still gives you the bigger picture with better sound and video.”

As well, Weller is a steward within the Wilmington community, often lending her hand to nonprofit functions and galas, whether being an emcee or honorary guest. She’s worked with the Willie Stargell Celebrity Golf Tournament, which raises money for local people dealing with kidney disease, the NHRMC Pink Ribbon Project, The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, and The CARE project. She also oversees Fran’s Fans every summer, which encourages folks to donate new fans to people who don’t have air conditioning during the sweltering months. Each Christmas she hosts a drive to deliver new bikes to children during the holiday. Weller’s next event will be for C.A.R.E (Coastal Animal Rescue Effort) on March 21; their fourth annual benefit will help their mission of treating needy animals, restoring their health, and finding loving new homes for dogs and cats.

“I cannot put into words how much this award means to me,” Weller says. “I have won encore’s Best Newscaster six times before, but this was extra special. My mother, who was my biggest fan, passed away just a few weeks before I received the award. She knew I was nominated but did not live to see me receive it. I know she was looking down from heaven and smiling! I’m calling this ‘Mama’s Award’ and will cherish it forever.”

Other newscasters gathering votes include Ashlea Kosakowsi and Jon Evans, both of WECT fame. Newscast votes also go to WWAY and FOX, WSFX. —Shea Carver

Food & Beverage

JAPANESE and SUSHI

Ten years ago YoSake took home Best New Restaurant in encore’s reader’s poll. Fast forward to 2015 and their well-established reputation has earned them Best Sushi and Best Japanese.

“[YoSake’s] inception was drawn to match the changing landscape of downtown Wilmington at that time,” marketing manager Nick White tells. “Sushi had been approaching a great level of popularity, and we wanted to bring a new, hip, bright, lounge-like feel to the demographic that lived in and frequented our growing downtown scene.”

Nestled on Front Street, directly above The Husk, YoSake brings a touch of the East to our eastern seaboard. Sushi, dumplings, curries, and more dot the restaurant’s expansive menu. Their sushi rolls, which come half-price as part of their nightly happy hour from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., range from spicy to traditional to wildly inventive. Their ROY G BIV Roll, stuffed with crab, avocado, cucumber, tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and shrimp and topped with scallions and tobiko, creates a whirlwind of color. Likewise, the Fire “In” the Mountain roll features spicy tuna prepared futomaki style that’s sure to liven up anyone’s dinner. Adventurous diners can nom on the This Is How We Roll, which comes chockful of the chef’s most-inspired combinations (no substitutions and no regrets).

Plus, their teriyaki grill, complete with choice of grilled chicken breast, salmon, tuna, jumbo shrimp, scallops, or petite filet, gives diners a taste of Japanese entrees. All teriyaki dishes come piled high with fried rice and vegetables.  “We are so fortunate to have an inspired culinary staff that keeps our customers palates delighted,” White says. 

Recently, YoSake has been lining their kitchen shelves with more local and regional products. “Not only are we able to support our local merchants, farmers and fishermen in doing so, but the goods we receive are top-notch,” White notes.

The eatery has begun a Monday night, 13-course chef’s tasting at the sushi bar. The experience yields tantalizing tastes and serves up seasonal flavors. The experts behind the counter walk customers through each of the 13 courses, dispensing valuable information about each fish, which was bought straight from the fisherman that morning.

A small-plates Monday menu and a make-your-own-curry night also have begun drawing in customers. “Embracing the local is the trend we are most keen to right now,” White says. “Being able to recycle funds locally and regionally while bringing the most superior of food to our customers is a no-brainer.”

Adding to their level of community involvement, YoSake recently hung new art work from the creative talent of Johnny Bahr. Plus, they’re utilizing the growing world of social media to the fullest.

“Last summer, we ran a really fun promotion, which we called the Social Media Check Comp Jackpot, where anyone dining with us had the chance at a free meal when they interacted with us on our social media,” White details.

Soon, they’ll be incorporating a new, similar campaign, wherein Yelp reviewers that weigh in on YoSake (good or bad) will be eligible for a discount. “We are flushed with appreciation for this community that our food, staff, and atmosphere have made a mark with Wilmington locals,” White declares.

Rolling into the second and third spot for Best Sushi are Nikki’s Sushi Bar and Bento Box, while  Hiro and Nikki’s Japanese Steak House round out the Best Japanese category.

MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE

Though a trip to the Mediterranean, with its tranquil shores and gorgeous landscapes, might be too pricey, Wilmington offers a culinary oasis that brings the region’s flavors locally to two locations. Housed in the the food court at Independence Mall and at the University Commons shopping center on South College (the latter of which was established due to popular demand), Baba Ghannouj Bistro’s delicious dishes have earned them Best Mediterranean Food.

Offering sandwiches, platters and more, Baba Ghannouj has an array of fare. Their Classic Gyro Platter comes with a choice of beef or lamb and is served with a Greek salad, hummus and cucumber salad. Ringing up at $9.99 it’s a full Mediterranean experience that doesn’t break the bank. Folks also can opt for the Curry Chicken and Rice Platter.

Likewise, the Gyro Shawirma sandwich, which comes smothered in potatoes, garlic sauce and parsley, and with a choice of beef, lamb, or chicken, also tantalizes local taste buds. All sandwiches come in under $6 and can be made into a combo for an additional $2.99.

As well, they offer vegetarian options, along with kabobs and wraps. Hummus, salads—from Greek to Ceaser, Fattoush to Tabouleh—and falafel top the list of trending items at the eatery. The quick-service restaurant makes a perfect lunch getaway from the office or a fast and convenient dinner.

According to Jamal Haddad, a passion for food and people congregating led him to the restaurant business. “[We’re] always trying to plant a smile on the faces of our customers,” he adds.

In keeping the menu fresh, Haddad hints that more menu items will debut in 2015. As well, they will continue supporting local nonprofits through generously donated gift certificates to aid their fundraising efforts. “Wilmington is a great town with so much going on,” Haddad expresses.

Also noted for serving up savory cultural cuisine are Sahara and The Greeks.

BAKERY and DESSERTS

We’ve all heard, ‘Nothing exceeds like excess,’ but at Apple Annie’s Bake Shop, nothing exceeds like decadence. Multiple-time winner for Best Desserts and Best Bakery, Wilmington has once again recognized the sweet, deliciousness the long-time shop serves up. Celebrating their 30th year in business, lots of surprises will waft through the air around their two Wilmington locations (one at The Forum on Kerr Avenue and the other on Military Cutoff).

RISING TO THE OCCASION: Rob Colley and family accpet two awards for their business, Apple Annie’s: Best Desserts and Best Bakery. Photo by Blueberry Creative

RISING TO THE OCCASION: Rob Colley and family accpet two awards for their business, Apple Annie’s: Best Desserts and Best Bakery. Photo by Blueberry Creative

“Creating lifelong memories is our mission,” owner Rob Cooley says. “We strive to create an experience for people; not just a baked good. We are privileged to play a part in celebrating life’s most precious milestones with our customers.”

Whether it’s a birthday or an anniversary with that special someone—from digital-image cakes to personalized decorations, 3-D cakes to multi-layered wedding cakes—Apple Annie’s offers customizable cakes for a memorable event. This comes in addition to their usual cookies, pastries and breads. No matter what the occasion or whim, Apple Annie’s has a freshly made baked good perfect for the day.

“There is a trend right now for small-batch, hand-crafted products,” Cooley details. “At Apple Annie’s everything is made right here in our kitchen daily, as it has been for the last 30 years. We are baking it fresh from scratch everyday.”

Like any prospering business, Apple Annie’s never settles. They constantly are working toward improvements. Recently, they remodeled the inside of their original store on Kerr, and they added a new location at The Forum (next to Bento Box).

Likewise, donating to schools, churches and various nonprofits like the United Way, top their list of ways to return the favor to their patrons. Local food banks also receive weekly donations, and area first responders can stop in for a complimentary cup of joe.

At Apple Annie’s, giving back to the community we love so much is at the core of our beliefs,” Cooley says.

Raising dough in second and third place for Best Bakery are 9 Bakery and Lounge and Sweet n Savory, and sugar-coating their way into the number two and three spots for Best Desserts are Circa 1922 and Sweet n Savory.

SEAFOOD

Given Wilmington’s seaside locale, it’s only natural that seafood is celebrated fare. Seven years ago, Cape Fear Seafood Company (CFSC), located in Monkey Junction, answered the calling for a fresh, local seafood dining experience. “We opened with a single goal in mind, and that was to become Wilmington’s premier place to get great seafood,” owner Evan Trawick says.

FISHING UPSTREAM: Cape Fear Seafood Company make their debut on our Best Of poll, taking Best Seafood by storm—accepted by fish cutter Dan Moriarty and server Forrest Kimble. Photo by Blueberry Creative

FISHING UPSTREAM: Cape Fear Seafood Company make their debut on our Best Of poll, taking Best Seafood by storm—accepted by fish cutter Dan Moriarty and server Forrest Kimble. Photo by Blueberry Creative

Headed by Trawick and wife Nikki, they’ve been finalists for Best Seafood the past couple years, but in 2015 they’ve finally taken home a win. “It feels great,” Evans Trawick says. “We can’t than our customers, fans and staff enough. Without them, CFSC would not exist.”

Encore’s readership aren’t the only ones to take note of CFSC’s excellence; they also have won the Star News Shorepicks for Best Seafood Restaurant in Southeastern NC the last two years, as well as recognition from Our State Magazine as one of the top 5 places in NC to have shrimp and grits. They’ve returned the love through their support of numerous charities and fundraisers locally.

Fresh from the sea, folks can order the New Bedford Scallops, which come lightly seasoned and glazed in sesame chili and coated with a yellow pepper coulis, or the lemon-peppered Broiled Sea Scallops. Don’t miss out on the jambalaya, which comprises sauteed shrimp and scallops, andouille sausage, okra, onions, tomatoes, and a plethora of tasty spices, either.

Likewise, Calabash-style entrees come with fries, hush puppies and housemaid cole slaw. Diners also can enjoy classics like fish ‘n’ chips or a grilled shrimp taco. For people looking for a non-seafood item, their steaks are up there with the best of them. All meals can be washed down with wines, cocktails, martinis, or beers from their fully stocked bar.

With such a diverse menu, CFSC had to expand their Monkey Junction location three years ago to accommodate for its growth. In late 2015, they will debut a new venture with a second location in Porter’s Neck in the Bayshore Commons Shopping Center.

“The restaurant business is very challenging, but we have never been the type to shy away from a challenge,” Trawick tells. “I believe this is what makes business fun for myself and my staff.”

Searing cuisine from the sea in second and third place for Best Seafood are Catch and Michael’s Seafood.—Christian Podgaysky

NEW RESTAURANT

When James Smith started The Patty Wagon three years ago, it became the hottest burger joint on wheels. Folks stalked the truck all over town for a taste of his thick, juicy, hand-crafted burgers. Last spring when he announced he would retire his wheels and move into a brick-and-mortar downtown, locals cheered in unison. And their applause has been loud, as Fork ‘n’ Cork received Best New Restaurant in the 2015 reader’s poll.

CORKED FOR PRIME TIME: This week’s cover models, owner James Smith and chef Nick Votel of Fork ‘n’ Cork, secure the win for Best New Restaurant. Photo by Blueberry Creative.

CORKED FOR PRIME TIME: This week’s cover models, owner James Smith and chef Nick Votel of Fork ‘n’ Cork, secure the win for Best New Restaurant. Photo by Blueberry Creative.

“Honestly, I have always wanted to open a restaurant,” Smith says. That dream became a reality on May 24, 2014. Though his love for food and the restaurant industry in general has been a lifetime love.

“As far as passion, it started a long time ago,” he says. “My grandpa had a diner in a tiny town in Oklahoma, and I would go visit in the summer. I loved everything about it—from helping in the kitchen to meeting all the different characters that either worked there or came to eat. I have been in the industry ever since. The one thing I’d have to say that keeps me passionate is the reaction from people when they try our food and truly enjoy it.”

Smith makes sure to utilize simple, quality ingredients in everything from the burgers to the brisket to the gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese to the salads to the fries. “We do our best to use local NC purveyors to get as many of our ingredients as possible,” Smith notes.

He also makes sure to listen to customer requests as much as possible. When a local dining group on Facebook frequently requested places to go for beef Wellington and the suggestions came up short, Fork ‘n’ Cork added a special of Beef Wellington Bites to rave reviews. “If our guests want it and we can make it, then there’s no reason not to try it,” Smith says. “In the restaurant industry, there are so many trends and fads. I think it’s important to do whatever you do as well as you possibly can and not cut corners. I feel like you make your own trends and following others isn’t always the best way to stay true to your own vision.”

Helping him follow through on that outlook is head chef Nicholas Votel. Votel guides the kitchen through every handmade item on the menu. His favorite: Scotch eggs. “You won’t find anything like them anywhere downtown,” he says.

Though Votel has had no formal culinary training—“I started cooking to impress a girl,” he admits—his time spent in local kitchens has been an invaluable learning experience.

“I have learned a lot at Fork ‘n’ Cork, especially from James,” he says. “He is a good person—a great boss. I have a lot of awesome cooks working for me, and people love our food. It’s hard to have a problem when things run smoothly. He understands the problems I go through in the kitchen, so it’s easier for me to keep going with that kind of support.”

The service at Fork ‘n’ Cork complements Smith’s high standard in fare. Whether hanging out with bartender Fred Flynn on Sundays for his famed jalapeño and cucumber Bloody Mary or chatting it up with one of the many friendly waitstaff, the Fork ‘n’ Cork family ensures customers are more than mere diners.

“I simply try to treat everyone like friends in my home,” Smith says. “When you start a business and put a lot on the line, you think you have a fantastic idea, but when other people agree, it’s amazing and makes it all worth it. Wilmington is a very loyal market . . . any business loves return customers but I truly feel a family-type relationship with many of our guests and hope they feel the same.”

In second place is Wake ‘n’ Bake Donuts, while Canapé secures third.

CHAIN RESTAURANT

In March 2013 Brent Tullius started at Wilmington’s first Chipotle Mexican Grill (at Oleander and Fordham roads) as a crew member. He had moved from the Rocky Mountains of Denver—where Chipotle first started in the mid-’90s—to the Wilmington coast in January 2013. When he found out Chipotle was debuting locally, it seemed kismit that he would return to his burrito-rollin’ roots.

“I’ve been passionate about food since I was young,” Tullius—now the general manager of the store—says. “I’ve always loved how Chipotle is dedicated to responsibly raised meats and organic produce, and their dedication to the people make it a wonderful place to work.”

Though a chain restaurant, Chipotle doesn’t focus on churning out run-of-the-mill ingredients, centered on high fat and calories. They work with family farmers to cull their meats and vegetables, plus, they work regionally to ensure foods shipped to each restaurant aren’t sourced beyond 350 miles. “They take it a step further by doing it with food that is perservative-free and actually good for you,” Tullius says. 

Tulius ensures his team sticks to the same goals, too. With apprentice Neandre McNair, service manager Kevin Schreck, and kitchen managers Ashley Seymour and Julia McPherson by his side, he is “developing a sustainable team of top performers who are empowered to achieve high standards.” Together, along with like-minded staff nationwide, they hope to redefine the fast-food experience by showing customers how everything is cooked fresh to order—no mystery meat here.

In 2000 Chipotle founder Steve Ells learned of how pork was being raised, so he changed pork products bought for Chipotles to be naturally raised only. Chickens followed suit in 2002, and by 2004, Chipotle got ahead of the zero-trans fat curve and started using frying oils devoid of trans fats. By 2007, 60 percent of their beef was naturally raised—today, all of it is natural—and they stopped using dairy products containing rBGH, a genetically engineered artificial hormone that make cows produce more milk. Not only does Ells walk the walk, he talks the talk. He even spoke to Congress about the dangers of using antibiotics in ranching in 2009.

“The corporation is constantly concerned with serving the best possible ingredients with respect to the animals, the farmers and the environment,” Tullius emphasizes.

Customers who’ve never visited the chain will find burritos and burrito bowls, as well as tacos, salads, and of course chips and guac. “Our guacamole is by far and large our biggest trending item,” Tullius admits. “We make it fresh twice a day from scratch, and season it to taste. We use upward of 200 avocados a day just to make it, and it’s a huge hit with our fresh fried tortilla chips!”

Tullius says with the constant evolution of the company, he won’t be surprised to see more changes soon on their menu soon. “We’re committed to finding the best for our customers [and that] has put us on a journey that has continually improved the brand name,” he notes. “The work we do here is very demanding and very labor intensive. So it feels great to be acknowledged by the locals.”

Other chain restaurants taking a bite into the category include Bonefish Grill and Olive Garden respectively. —Shea Carver

Environmental & Humanitarian

HUMANITAIRAN and NONPROFIT

NourishNC—the 2015 Best Nonprofit—began in 2008 when founder Kim Karslake and a group of concerned parents learned that children in a New Hanover County school were not receiving proper nourishment outside of school. Compelled to help, the parents funded a program that sent backpacks of food home with around 20 students. Their success grew rather quickly, and by 2009 they had expanded their reach into a middle school. Today the 501(c)3 nonprofit provides weekend meals for over 400 children in New Hanover County. They also provide weekend food for holiday and summer breaks. To date, they’ve supplied over one million meals.

When NourishNC’s assistant director position opened, Alexandra Leviner, encore’s Best Humanitarian for 2015, applied for the job. “At the time, I was a full-time intern with another area nonprofit organization that worked with at-risk children,” she notes. No stranger to the power of giving back, Leviner had been reared to volunteer within the community thanks to a supportive mom who made it a point to involve her children.

“As a child, the adult volunteers I met were great role models [and] taught me the value of giving back both on a personal level and a community level,” she says. “My goal has always been to work for a cause that helps meet the most basic of needs in my own community.”

A Junior League of Wilmington member, Leviner donated time to Cape Fear Museum, Child Advocacy and Parenting Place, Domestic Violence Shelter and Services Inc. and Habitat For Humanity. She was impacted by NourishNC’s mission from the onset.

“I would frequently hear heartwarming stories about how [the donated] food was directly affecting the student’s behavior, schoolwork and life as a whole,” Leviner explains.

With 525 food-insecure students studying in 25 New Hanover County schools and 17 schools completely offering free lunch to every student, Leviner began her work with Nourish NC in spring of 2014. By the end of 2015, NourishNC hopes to secure partnerships with three additional schools, while adding 100 students to the program.

“Childhood hunger is a larger problem,” Leviner states. “It is a barrier to proper growth, development and education, which further perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Children who lack proper nutrition have documented decreases in mental and physical development. Hunger can result in irritability, poor performance in school, and an inability to normalize within their peer groups, all of which can follow these children into adulthood and affect their quality of life.”

One in four children in New Hanover County go hungry daily; thus folks who wish to help decrease this statistic can help. NourishNC always needs volunteers. Community members can sign-up for volunteer shifts at www.nourishnc.org. The nonprofit welcomes food and also needs help with food drives.

“We have a number of upcoming events in the works, such as our second annual one-less hungry child gala in September, a golf tournament, as well as partnering with multiple local businesses for giveback days,” Leviner notes.

They work closely with other local organizations, too, like The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, United Way and the New Hanover County School Board.   

       —Shea Carver

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