King Neptune owners could move into Buddy’s former location

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Buddy’s Crab House and Oyster Bar vacated its Wrightsville Beach location just months ago, and the owners of another Wrightsville Beach landmark — King Neptune Restaurant — might soon take its place.

The Wrightsville Beach Planning Board voted unanimously May 3 to recommend the town grant a conditional use permit to the building’s new owner, Tom Kievit, to operate a full-service restaurant at the E. Salisbury Street location. Kievit’s likely tenants are Danny and Earl McPherson, owners of nearby King Neptune Restaurant.

The McPhersons plan to run the new restaurant in addition to King Neptune, developing a “high-end, custom-made menu” with items like crème brulee French toast, fresh seafood from Motts Channel Seafood and oysters on the half shell.

“I know I’m creating competition for myself,” Danny McPherson admitted, “but I believe in trying to keep people on the island.”

During the public hearing, three residents spoke in favor of the proposal, saying a family restaurant would bring a much-needed upgrade to the Johnnie Mercer’s Pier area. Parmele Drive resident Kelly Burnett said she and many nearby residents at the northern end of the island have young kids, so such an establishment would fit the neighborhood’s character.

“We’re really trying to focus on family,” McPherson told the board and residents, likening his proposed restaurant to a “Cheers” establishment “Where everybody knows your name.”

No one spoke in opposition to the proposed project, although McPherson addressed what he referred to as the elephant in the room — fears that his restaurant would eventually become a private club, as Buddy’s did.

Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Dan House detailed those concerns, noting that despite Buddy’s origins as a restaurant, over the past five years, his department received 178 complaints about the establishment related to alcohol and noise.

McPherson said with the prime location and lack of competition in the direct vicinity, he expects to do well enough during dinner hours that he won’t need a late-night business.

To further alleviate worries, the planning board set conditions on Kievit’s permit mandating the restaurant not serve customers later than 10 p.m. and, if the establishment should become a private club, the town could revoke the permit.

Providing adequate parking was another hurdle for Kievit and his team, but the planning board voted to grant the project a parking exception for 27 spaces given the amount of street parking in the area. The restaurant would likely attract mostly walk-up traffic, McPherson added.

The town’s fire department had safety concerns about the building itself, which is more than 75 years old. Buddy’s only operated on the bottom floor because the top floor wasn’t structurally secure, project manager Cameron Zurbruegg said, and the project’s architect, David Lisle, admitted when he walked to the second floor he “stepped through a couple holes.”

Lisle plans to make extensive renovations inside, including adding air conditioning and heating and putting in new electrical wiring and windows. He also reduced the bar by about 60 percent, he said, to make room for a small dining space.

The next step for Kievit and his team is earning final approval from the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen, which will consider the permit request at its May 12 meeting.

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