Brent and Dawn Williams will celebrate the second anniversary of the opening of Brent’s Bistro in July, but they will really be celebrating a 30-year culinary journey.
Brent Williams has spent most of his career within 2 miles of his present location in Crosspoint Plaza at 7110 Wrightsville Ave. near Wrightsville Beach. He spent three decades creating dishes at upscale restaurants such as Jerry’s Food, Wine and Spirits, 7220 Wrightsville Ave., and Sweet n Savory at 1611 Pavilion Place, but Brent’s Bistro is his dream realized. It is his own.
“I have always wanted to have my own place, and when I was at Jerry’s, I would look over here and say, ‘That’s a killer spot for a restaurant,’” Brent Williams said. These days, it is the home of Brent’s Bistro, where he and his wife offer a casual, yet fine-dining experience.
The intimate setting with sage green walls decorated with glossy photographs of waves and beach scenes emanates a serene atmosphere of class, yet the vibe is laid back and comfortable.
“It is upscale without being uptight,” Dawn Williams said. “We want to give people good food without having to feel like they’ve got to get dressed up to come to us.”
“We call it a bistro, but it is really an American grill. It’s great food where you don’t have to come just for a special occasion,” Brent Williams added.
Using locally sourced seafood and vegetables whenever possible, the Williamses said they pride themselves on offering “something for everybody.”
“We have flounder – a whole fried stuffed flounder – that was gigged the previous night. We utilize local, good fresh seafood and local veggies,” Brent Williams said. “And we have chicken and pork chops and a wide selection of salads. Great choices for everyone, the whole family, including the kids.”
The team also includes Williams’ 13-year-old daughter, Conner, in the business, as well as their nephew.
“We are very family-oriented. We like to focus on the family atmosphere because we care about people being able to take their families out for a nice meal,” Dawn Williams said.
Their executive chef, James Matthews, and his wife, Tricia, are also considered part of the family.
“James brings a lot to the table. He is the backbone of the restaurant. We worked together 20 years ago, and now I am glad to be back together,” Brent Williams said.
Brent Williams said he acknowledges the hard work it has taken to open his own restaurant and says he has the utmost respect for his previous employers.
“After 30 years of working in the industry, you think you know everything, but when you open your own restaurant, you realize there’s so much you don’t know,” Brent Williams said. “You think you work all the time until you own your own restaurant and know what it is really like to work all the time.”
Dawn Williams, who quit her 26-year long career as a nail technician to open Brent’s Bistro with her husband, calls the experience “enlightening.”
“I have gained a lot of respect for (Brent’s) talent,” Dawn Williams said. “I understood that he was very talented, but it’s so much more than that that I have come to appreciate.”
Brent Williams has an equal appreciation for his wife. “I couldn’t do it without Dawn,” he said.
After nearly two years of success, he said he feels like he can finally breathe a little easier.
“The first year seemed like I was worrying about everything that was superfluous, like do I have enough spoons, do I have enough coffee mugs, but I have gotten past that,” Brent Williams said. “Now I am excited. I can have more fun and concentrate on what really matters like what specials I am going to do.”
The bistro seats 65 people inside and 25 on the outside patio, but the owners want the growth to be more about what they offer their customers rather than the numbers.
“We want to keep it small and consistent. I want to be able to touch every plate that goes out instead of mass production and pushing food out a window,” Brent Williams said.
The restaurant’s catering business has tripled since its inception, providing food for corporate and private events. And the growth of the restaurant’s wine selection has been a goal that Brent’s Bistro has met over the past year and a half.
“Our wine list went from zero to hero, and we have expanded into monthly wine dinners where we educate others on the wine offerings,” Brent Williams said.
A recent wine dinner included a wine maker from California as well as strawberry and blueberry growers to represent all those that take part in the wine production process.
The restaurant is open 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and also offers an extensive Sunday brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The owners recommend making reservations.
The brunch, which will be featured in June’s edition of Our State magazine, offers special selections, including crab-stuffed fried avocado, and classic favorites such as quiches and benedicts.
“It is personal to us. I really appreciate you coming in and want you to come back,” Brent Williams said. “I sincerely want everyone who comes in to enjoy themselves and have a good time.”