Socially Distanced Suppers

Wilmington diners go alfresco

Eating outside has always been a fun, relaxing experience, but amid a pandemic, its open-air qualities seem even more attractive.

In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the city of Wilmington in collaboration with the Down­town Business Alliance and Wilm­ington Downtown Inc., launched Downtown Alive to open addition­al outdoor seating for area restau­rants.

Four blocks of downtown Wilmington close to traffic Thurs­days through Sundays through September 7 to allow for a pedes­trian thoroughfare. With restau­rants only able to operate at 50% capacity, the Downtown Alive ini­tiative expands seating space out­doors.

“People just feel more com­fortable eating outside during this time,” Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says. “We are a tourist destination with a great climate, so until 100% capacity comes back into play, it’s the right thing to do.”

The initiative has caught on be­yond the parameters of the four-block closure, inspiring businesses to be creative with spaces available to them.

“Businesses, not just within the blocked-out areas are using ad­jacent buildings to expand their seating and even alleys beside them to add seating, like at the Copper Penny,” said TERRY ESPY, pres­ident of the Downtown Business Alliance who spearheaded the ini­tiative.

The alfresco dining adds to the “character and charm of Wilming­ton,” Espy says.

Keeping patrons and staff safe is the focus, but keeping the charac­ter and flavor of downtown Wilmington and its businesses is a bonus to the outdoor dining option.

“It’s been great. It gives us the oppor­tunity to safely expand seating,” says John Bradley, owner of Rebellion NC, a Front Street restaurant. “Adding more area for people to sit and eat outside is key, and it is obviously what phase two (of the state’s reopening plan) is all about.”

Still, others are more comfortable stay­ing at home. That does not mean they can’t enjoy the fun of having an easy meal and socially distanced get-together.

“Take home, steam home,” is the mantra that is working well for Topsail Steamer of Surf City and Wrightsville Beach that al­lows customers to pick up all they need to have a seafood steam pot at home.

The business offers a bucket of fresh, local seafood with corn and potatoes that only requires a bit of beer or water to be added to the bucket to be cooked at home on the stovetop. The kit even includes a pa­per tablecloth for easy cleanup.

“It’s the nature of what we offer,” says Topsail Steamer owner DANIELLE MA­HON, adding that their recent increase in business comes from her customers being “excited to have this as an option to do at home.”

Because of the coronavirus, it’s just one way for those sticking closer to home to host an alfresco dinner party with family and close friends.

Through an online company, Gold­belly, fresh, local seafood in a bay bucket from Topsail Steamer ( also can be shipped nationwide to people’s front doors.

“It’s all timing. We’ve already shipped to all fifty states,” Mahon says. “We were even featured in Forbes magazine for a Father’s Day meal kit idea.”

As social beings, the pandemic has been frustrating to everyone, Saffo points out. But, making smart choices and following suggested guidelines doesn’t mean foodies can’t enjoy delicious meals and each other’s company.

“We will get through this, and these measures will help us all a lot. Being able to practice social distancing while enjoying local businesses helps us all,” Saffo says.

Downtown Alive runs Thursday and Friday evenings 6:30 p.m.-10 p.m., Satur­days 10 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sundays 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. through September 7.

To view more of photographer Michael Cline Spencer’s work, go to

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Categories: Taste