As More Restaurants Shutter, A Look At The End Of An Oleander Drive Staple

By Justin Pope Williams, posted Sep 15, 2021
Temptations Gourmet Cafe at 3501 Oleander Drive has closed after nearly 40 years. (Photo by Justin Pope Williams)
Whether it was the chocolate, the seafood bisque or the pepper roast beef wrap, the food lured diners to Temptations Gourmet Cafe in Hanover Center for decades.

But the cafe at 3501 Oleander Drive in Wilmington is closed, becoming one of the latest local restaurant casualties of COVID-19 economic impacts.

“We just couldn’t do it anymore,” said longtime chef Virginia Thompson. 

For Temptations, like many other restaurants, the pandemic resulted in fewer business hours, employees and customers. 

“At first, we had to close [because of COVID-19 requirements]. Then we had shortened hours. Over the span of this, things have just gotten harder and harder," Thompson said.

According to a National Restaurant Association survey last year, one in six restaurants had been forced to close either permanently or long-term. Some of them continue to suffer. The Wilmington area has seen an increasing number of restaurant closing announcements in September.  

On Sept. 11, the owner of a restaurant at Lumina Station on Eastwood Road, 1900, published this Facebook post:

"Dear friends and family of 1900, tonight is our last night so stop in for the last of 8 1/2 years of great times. It’s been an amazing run, but it’s time for me personally to step back and enjoy life after 35 years of hard work. I decided to take a deal instead of signing a new lease.  Thank you to all the people that enjoyed 1900 and the people that worked for me, especially the crew that got us through the busy but stressful covid days. You are my true friends."

A&G Barbecue & Chicken, of 800 S. Lake Park Blvd. in Carolina Beach, posted on Sept. 9, "It’s bittersweet around the restaurant this week. After almost 33 years of business, we are closing our doors. Wednesday, September 15 is our last day serving Carolina Beach."

Regarding Temptations, Thompson said it's hard on a small restaurant when something unprecedented happens. 

Temptations opened in the early 1980s, and Sandra Kittinger was the original owner. Over the years, the restaurant would have a few different owners and even had a second location in Porters Neck.  

Known for its unique soups, salads and wraps as well as its chocolate and cookie counter, Temptations also stood out as a gift store and offered unique and personalized gift and fruit baskets. 

Longtime Wilmington resident Neesha Nicks Allen remembers fondly working at the restaurant during her high school years and holds the memories of being an employee at Temptations close to her heart. 

“This was the 1980s and it was so much fun," she said. "We had such great customers and a fantastic staff. It was a fun time at Hanover Center.” 

Allen says what made Temptations so special was the people as well as the unique gift baskets created for any holiday.

Emely Collier first went to Temptations when she worked across the street at Belk in her college years and continued to dine there even during the pandemic. She said she is saddened to see such a Wilmington staple close.

“It’s heartbreaking. I have so many memories of going to Temptations. The food was delicious and it was just a friendly place to be. I will miss it,” she said.

Thompson has served the restaurant for the past 14 years as the chef. She said it is indeed a chapter closing for a place that once had up to 13 staff members and provided a lot of great memories for many Wilmingtonians. 

Thompson said, “Temptations has had the most loyal customer base over the years, and for that we are forever grateful to them.”
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