Restaurant royalty is returning soon to Wrightsville Beach.
King Neptune, under new ownership and new culinary leadership, will reopen Sept. 26, according to Jimmy Gilleece, who purchased the restaurant in April. Gilleece is also the owner of Jimmy’s Wrightsville Beach, located next to King Neptune’s space at 11 N. Lumina Ave.
Since taking over the arguably longest-lived restaurant in New Hanover County, Gilleece has gutted the interior and done a complete renovation.
“The only thing we kept was the hood and the floors, but we sealed the floors with epoxy,” Gilleece said Monday.
A new look won’t harm King Neptune’s legacy. Originally opened in 1947, it has attracted the attention of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, which plans to recognize the establishment, according to Gilleece.
Also getting a makeover is the menu.
“We have two chefs: Nick Chavez, at the creative end, and a buddy I grew up with, who is the menu guy,” Gilleece said. “Fortunately, he said he would be willing to move from Raleigh, where he was in charge of seven or eight restaurants.”
The friend, Johnny Anderson, is working with Chavez to “basically modernize the menu a bit,” according to Gilleece. “Three or four generations know Neptune and want it to be what they want.”
That means, for longtime customers, a fisherman’s platter or something similar. For the 40-plus crowd, “they want good wines,” and for the 20-somethings, “they just want avocado,” Gilleece said with a laugh.
Anderson did some research before arriving in Wrightsville Beach. He and Chavez are developing a menu that will reflect King Neptune’s beach location while also offering dishes that tempt a younger palate. Chavez, most recently the chef at Salt Fish Restaurant and Tiki Bar in Carolina Beach, brings an innovative approach and local knowledge.
“For breakfast, it’s the basics; nothing crazy,” said Gilleece. “Lunch will be salads and sandwiches. Dinner will be a little higher end but still beach fare. Ninety percent of the menu will be fresh local seafood, but we’ll also have a steak and chicken. We’ll have a better wine selection and tiki drinks with umbrellas: cheesy enough to be cool. And we’ll have a good brunch on Saturday and Sunday.”
Early in his life, Gilleece worked at a marina and then at local restaurants, so he said he has good connections with local fishermen – connections that will support King Neptune’s culinary offerings.
“It’s coming together,” he said of his operation. “Our back of the house is really strong.”