Uniquely Personal

Salt + Charm looks to expand at Cargo District

Wilma 0121 Tastemain

Salt + Charm is one of few businesses that didn’t suffer a huge hit with the 2020 pandemic.

On the contrary, the personal chef service exploded because of COVID-19, creating a community of homebound folks still craving good food.

Between people not going out to restaurants at all for a while and school-age kids learning from home, there’s a lot more on working families’ plates – with less time for meal planning, shopping, and cooking.

In the age of Uber Eats and DoorDash, where convenience is king, Salt + Charm’s services of planning, shopping for, and cooking a week’s worth of meals proved popular before the coronavirus.

Chef ABBYE MCGEE only just opened her personal chef service a few weeks before COVID-related shutdowns began in March, at which time her business was already booming.

“There were just not enough (personal chefs) for the demand in Wilmington,” she remembers, “so my schedule filled up within like two weeks, and then I started adding chefs.”

McGee and her handful of chefs stopped going into clients’ homes completely for a few weeks and started a meal delivery service.

“I rented kitchen space, and people heard about it and started asking for it, and it grew and grew,” she says.

Nevertheless, McGee has since returned to clients’ homes, where there’s very little interaction because they’re usually at work or in their home office.

McGee is quick to say she’s not a chef in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, with her degree in music from UNCW, it was only ten years ago she decided to leave her career as a teacher to enter the kitchen.

“I did not go to culinary school – though, there are lots of people on my staff who did,” she explains. “My grandmother taught me how to cook when I was a kid, like a traditional Southerner-in-the kitchen cook.”

Salt + Charm is seasoned with McGee’s upbringing, with “upscale Southern comfort” an ongoing theme. Shrimp and grits, chicken pot pie with biscuits, as well as other comfort foods such as spaghetti and meatballs, are among wintertime favorites.

Nevertheless, Salt + Charm’s menu is as expansive as the imagination because it’s so personalized.

Now, almost a year into business, McGee plans to move Salt + Charm into the former Charlie Graingers’ space (on 17th and Queen streets), which they will take possession of in January. McGee plans to open in March and usher in new offerings.

Salt + Charm services will continue with in-home meal packages (starting at $200, plus cost of meals) for a week, as well as private events. This new space will allow McGee her staff of about a dozen to be more efficient and cook for more people.

“Right now we’re cooking out of the Burgaw Incubator Kitchen all the way out in Pender County one day a week, and everything else is everywhere all over town in people’s houses,” she says. “We just needed a space that we can grow and streamline our process of seeing more people on more days.”

While this new iteration of Salt + Charm will not be a full-service restaurant, they will be open for occasional tapas dinner service, pop-up events, and Saturday breakfast and brunch.

“You’ll be able to come in and get a good Southern breakfast, and you can sit at the bar and eat, or you can take it with you,” McGee says. “I just want people to experience Salt + Charm as your go-to experience, whether it’s a unique, personalized service in your home or you want to pick up a meal or you need a fancy dinner party.”

Simple Southern fare such as chicken salad and other everyday items will be available for pickup.

At least two months of renovations are needed for the new Cargo District location, with plans for an expansive kitchen and new equipment. Patrons will be able to swing by the new location for meal pickups and grab- and-go lunches with a few barstools to sit and eat at the bar while overlooking the kitchen.

“I want it to feel like you’re going into your mom’s kitchen or your grandma’s kitchen,” McGee says. “It’s open so if you come in to get food, you’ll be able to see us and interact with us, and that’s kind of the hallmark of our businesses: We build relationships with the people we feed.”

To view more of photographer Erin Costa’s work, go to erincostaphoto.com.

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Categories: Taste