Gathering at Castle Street Kitchen
Just one trip from Raleigh to Wilmington was all that HEATHER and LAUREN RHODES needed to know that the vacant space at 509 Castle Street was meant for them.
They had been looking for a location in Raleigh to transform into their own restaurant when the vacancy in Wilmington popped up on an online site for commercial realty. Lauren, who saw it first, still has the text message she sent to Heather: “Someone should scoop that up! Why wouldn’t that be you?”
“I always believed in Heather and her dream,” Lauren Rhodes says.
In September, the couple sold their home, packed up, and moved to Wilmington. The following March they opened Castle Street Kitchen (CSK), a new eatery in Wilmington that exudes a bold mission focused on food and community.
“It took lots of work to come up with our mission. My background in special education showed me the purpose of inclusion,” Lauren Rhodes says. “We wanted our restaurant to be an inclusive space where all are welcome.”
The mural on the outside wall by artist Jason Lee Parker was an unexpected bonus. “We saw it for the first time when we pulled onto Castle Street. It sealed the deal for us. The mural acknowledges the many injustices happening in our world,” Lauren Rhodes says.
Even the name of the restaurant reflects the mission. Heather Rhodes recalls sitting with her brother and a friend learning the history.
“We jotted names for an hour, and we had it,” she says. “Lauren made a logo, and here we are!”
“We wanted to honor the history and heritage of Castle Street by keeping it in the name. Then we added Kitchen, typically considered the heart of the home. We hope to become the heart of Castle Street,” Lauren Rhodes adds.
“We both resonate with the experience of eating. We had a Sunday supper club with our best friends in Raleigh. We have powerful memories of cooking in the kitchen together,” Lauren Rhodes says.
“We were competitive,” Heather Rhodes adds with a laugh. “No canned biscuits or store-bought pie crust in this club.”
The supper club was the inspiration for Heather and Lauren’s favorite CSK dish.
“Most tomato pie recipes call for mayo, but I didn’t want mayo in my pie. And I love to play with food. So, I found some mascarpone and blended it up. It turned out to be a phenomenal tomato pie,” Heather Rhodes says.
Unique food with a twist has become her way of welcoming and embracing the community. “Food is Heather’s love language. Our loaded fries are not your normal bacon and cheese fries. Ours surprise with goat cheese and pistachios,” Lauren Rhodes says.
Heather Rhodes, who has been involved in the restaurant industry since she was fourteen years old, brought her wealth of business knowledge to CSK. From dishwasher to hostess, and bartender to server, she has wound all of her years of experience into running the restaurant.
“But the most important thing Heather has brought to CSK is teamwork,” Lauren Rhodes points out. “Our staff embodies what’s important to us. They share our exact same passion for food and community.”
“We are nothing without our team,” Heather Rhodes adds.
Hanging over the bar is a portrait of her late grandfather, no doubt keeping a watchful eye.
“He lived ninety-six years. All he talked about was going to the new restaurant,” Lauren Rhodes says. “He didn’t make it, but his memory did. Granddad was a force. He was kind yet feisty and funny. He loved Heather tremendously. It’s hard for us to have not had him here.”
Heather and Lauren already talk about what’s next.
“Maybe pop-ups with musicians and artists, or showcasing foster animals out front,” Lauren Rhodes says. “Sometimes we make comments about our next restaurant. But for now, we want to be the heart of the community; bring people together to share good food over powerful discussions in a place where everyone is welcome.”
“For now,” Heather Rhodes says, “we just want to rock Castle Street.”
To view more of photographer Megan Deitz’s work, go to megandeitz.com.
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