Locals Cook Up Kitchen Concepts

By Randall Kirkpatrick, posted Feb 16, 2024
Shane Faulkner, co-owner of End of Days Distillery, stands inside the distillery’s new concept kitchen in Wilmington. Faulkner said he and fellow EoD owner Beth Faulkner wanted to give chefs opportunities for innovation. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
One of the unexpected impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was the surge of shared and commissary kitchens, which partially filled the gap created by the need for restaurants to thrive or even survive in the altered food ecosystem. 

The Wilmington area, with its condensed, restaurant-intensive locale, was at the center of this growth. Players in this arena include End of Days Distillery, Shuckin’ Shack, the Burgaw Incubator Kitchen and Chow Town. 

Each shares common goals of sharing resources and increasing opportunities for developing entrepreneurs such as food truck purveyors, catering companies and restaurant owners. Each also has its own distinct internal organizational goals.

For John Weathington, CEO of Wilmington-area restaurant mainstay Shuckin’ Shack, the time was right to diversify and expand the eatery’s operational footprint. Shuckin’ Shack is building a commissary kitchen, Out of the Weeds, slated to open in late spring. 

“The seed of our initial idea grew fairly rapidly,” he said. “In 2020, we started actively looking for an office close to downtown that would be a training site for franchisees while also being a site where we test and execute recipes, all in one building.”

When it opens on North Third Street, the multi-functional new space is slated to serve as a health department-approved service and production kitchen. It also projects to be an activity and learning nexus for chefs, photographers, food truck owners, caterers, event planners, product testers and newbie restauranteurs.

Early in his career, Weathington worked for companies such as Blockbuster, Best Buy and Hilton Hotels. This experience provided a wide knowledge base that helped him see all the organizational puzzle pieces and anticipate the next less obvious steps to take.

“This is a community-wide resource, with a full-blown operational kitchen that can serve neighboring bars and restaurants,” he said. 

In the nearby Brooklyn Arts District, business partners Zeke Nathans and Dynh Le are developing Chow Town, an outdoor plaza with parking for six food trucks, space for dining and events and eventually an on-site commissary kitchen and space for selling beer, wine and other concessions. The establishment is scheduled for a spring opening. Two storage containers will house the beer and wine purveyors and kitchen.

Le, owner of Tap Tea Bar, GDN Nail Bar and GDN Mancave, has been encouraged by the volume of reach-outs from food truck owners from farther North Carolina locales like Wallace and Charlotte. “Our plan is to have a couple of resident food trucks, and the rest would rotate,” he said. “It’s good to change things up.”

The Burgaw Incubator Kitchen began operations in 2011, funded by a USDA grant to renovate the historic train station that houses it. Since its opening, over 75 tenants have used the incubator kitchen.

Chris Lubben’s business has benefitted from the commissary. Lubben is the owner and founder of Chris’s Cosmic Cheesecakes, based in Leland. In 2019, he reached out to Burgaw parks and recreation director Cody Suggs and got started in October 2019. 

“The incubator had space exactly when I needed it, and it was a simple process to set up,” Lubben said. “Affordable commercial spaces are sparse; you can easily spend $3,000 to $6,000 a month. From Leland, I’m about 40 minutes from Burgaw, and with the savings, it’s well worth that relatively short trip.” 

In September, a food hall and incubator kitchen – Block Eatz – opened in the McKeithan Center at Cape Fear Community College’s North Campus. Wilmington entrepreneurs Tracey and Girard Newkirk created Block Eatz to help food entrepreneurs with the costly infrastructure needed to get a restaurant off the ground, including real estate and a commercial kitchen. 

Over the past dozen years, Burgaw’s Suggs has had a front-row seat to the growth of the incubator kitchen concept.

“When we got started, we were all learning together, including me. It was functional and effective but also somewhat quiet,” Suggs said. “When COVID hit, the value that we provided for food entrepreneurs, especially food trucks, skyrocketed.” 

Shane and Beth Faulkner, founders of End of Days Distillery in Wilmington, opened their concept kitchen in November. In 2021, city of Wilmington officials approved the narrow, 40-foot shipping container that would ultimately house their concept kitchen.

Between that announcement and the kitchen’s official opening, the Faulkners would continue building their collection of spirits, including gin, vodka, rum, blue agave, bourbon and rye whiskey. But the concept kitchen was their culinary game-starter; it took Shane Faulkner nearly two years to complete the place’s high-end, commercial-grade kitchen. Much of the work he did himself.

Recent events have included well-known Wilmington chefs.

“We wanted to try something different by giving some of the best chefs in the city opportunities to try out some of their most innovative, one-of-a-kind creations for events, in partnership with our distillery and all that we offer,” Shane Faulkner said. “The events have been really well received by our customers. This is not street food; this is true culinary delight territory. And though we began as a commissary for food trucks, we decided to blow it up into something new and different.”
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