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Wrightsville Beach
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

With tourist season approaching, Wrightsville Beach businesses spring back to life

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South Beach Grill, Blockade Runner, Shell Island Resort all prepare for reopening

Sprawling across a wall in the newly reopened South Beach Grill, the missing branches in a photo of the Airlie Oak taken shortly after Hurricane Florence symbolizes the struggles the owners, and nearly everyone in the community, has endured since last September’s massive storm.

“It was not as full as it usually it,” said South Beach Grill co-owner Elaine Andrews, before the restaurant reopened on Wednesday. “That’s a good representation of where we’re at right now.”

Taken by Lisa Schnitzler, who recently retired after a 20-year career as the art teacher at Williston Middle School , the photo was inspired by the Angel Oak Tree is Charleston, S.C., and is one of several changes to the interior of South Beach Grill, which suffered extensive damage due to leaking caused by Florence. There’s higher ceilings, fresh white paint on the wall, decorative wooden shutters and giant windows that harken back to the art deco origins of the building there.

The remodel, and reopening, is one of several coming to Wrightsville Beach over the next couple weeks. Last weekend, the Blockade Runner Beach Resort opened for the first time since Florence. Shell Island Resort and the Oceanic restaurant are also preparing for imminent reopenings.

“We’re ecstatic to be back,” said South Beach Grill co-owner John Andrews said. “It’s a dream that was preceded by a nightmare.”

South Beach Grill will reopen with a new chef, as Dwayne Hickman, who cut his teeth as a chef in Washington, D.C., brings his Arkansas roots and recent experience at Aubriana’s Steak & Seafood and Dram + Morsel to the beachside restaurant. In D.C., Hickman worked at

“He’s southern inspired with a metropolitan polish,” Andrews said.

To start, the menu will remain the same, but new dishes will be coming soon.

“As Duane gets to know our customers, his influences will show,” said John Andrews.

Menu items will be written in colored chalk on a chalkboard that once hung in St. Mary’s Elementary School. Other new additions include a bar made from a 300 year old oak, which was found in the Greenfield Lake area. It’s been drying for seven years and features an oil finish.

“It makes it kind of special,” said John Buechele of the Buechele Building Group, which handled construction of the building.

Helping Buechele with the construction was interior designer Suzanne Trecco, who said the remodel helped bring out some of the charm in a classic building.

“We’ve brought out the original splendor of this building,” Trecco said.

While the construction community came out the help support the rebuilding of South Beach Grill, Andrews said the business also got significant support from the community.

“We had all kinds of support from the community,” Andrews said. “Some brought us lunch. Other came to volunteer to push a broom.”

While no date for a reopen is, the Oceanic is hiring and anticipating a spring opening, once all permitting and construction are completed.

“We’re working fast and furious,” said Katherine Goldfaden of Oceanic parent company LM Restaurants. “There will be a new interior, and we’re refocusing on our service and our menu. Our favorites will stay.”

Meanwhile, the general manager of Shell Island Resort, which has also been closed since Hurricane Florence, said the resort was scheduled to resume operations on March 1.

The Blockade Runner Beach Resort opened last weekend after being closed since September. Co-owner Bill Baggett said that the Hurricane Florence was one of the most impactful storm the hotel has ever faced, damaging nearly all of the 150 rooms.

“We went through Hurricane Fran, a category 3 plus storm, and stayed on the property. Hurricane Florence was a stronger storm than Fran. Hurricane Florence blew parts of the building apart that Fran didn’t; it wasn’t even close,” Bill Baggett said.  “We had no damage with Hurricane Fran. With Florence for example, the northeast parapet wall was completely torn off. Fran couldn’t have done that. I’ve never seen this much damage, and I think the Wrightsville Beach building department here can tell you the same thing. But monetarily, certainly, Hurricane Florence is the worst storm since Hazel.”  

Baggett summarized the damages to the Blockade Runner.

“The hurricane losses at Blockade Runner are in three categories: the damage to our buildings and property, estimated to be five million; content loss, approximately two million; and loss of business during repairs, approximately two million. The total loss will be close to ten million dollars,” he said.

However, Mary Baggett said that after extensive repairs over the winter, the Blockade Runner was ready to reopen.

“The entire restaurant, meeting space, and facilities on the first floor were all gutted for repair,” Mary Baggett said.  “And so, we’re going to be back better than ever with a very enjoyable space, with the storm giving us an opportunity to rework a bit and hopefully make everything more accommodating for the guests.”


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