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WORKING THROUGH IT: Local Brewery Expands To Grocery Sales

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Mar 19, 2020
Wrightsville Beach Brewery is now offering a grocery service as a way to keep its staff employed and keep business rolling. (File photo)
Editor's note: The Business Journal will be running regular features on area businesses and how they are adjusting operations, innovating and coping in general with the economic impacts of the coronavirus. For story or subject suggestions, email [email protected].

Wrightsville Beach Brewery Owner Jud Watkins doesn't want to see food go to waste. 

That's why on Thursday, his business launched a grocery delivery service on top of what the restaurant and brewery is already doing through delivery and curbside pick up service at its location at 6201 Oleander Drive. 

The business, along with many other local restaurants in the Cape Fear Region, are coming up with some innovative ways to transform their business and keep as many people as possible employed following an executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper this week that mandates all restaurants and bars close their doors for in-house dining to the public in response to the coronavirus. Take-out and delivery are still allowed.

Watkins, who opened the brewery in 2015, is offering the service as pick up or delivery. Grocery delivery is taking place within a 4-mile radius of the restaurant, for now. 

The business has designated three pick up and delivery days for the grocery service to start on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Initially, Wrightsville Beach Brewery is asking that orders be placed before 1 p.m. the day prior to pickup or delivery, Watkins said.

Those interested in the service can visit Wrightsville Beach Brewery Facebook page for a list of items and additional details. Orders can be placed via email at [email protected] or call the restaurant at 256-4938.

Wrightsville Beach Brewery is suggesting with the service a $5 donation or more donation, which will go to NourishNC, a nonprofit organization that provides supplemental food assistance to hungry students in the community.

GWBJ: How did you come up with this idea and why did you decide to do it?

Jud Watkins: “I've read on numerous occasions that America eats approximately one-third of their meals at restaurants. So if you think about it from purely a supply chain scenario, these grocery stores just aren't going to be able to keep up. They can't go up 50%, 100% capacity overnight. They're mostly large corporations, which we know are a little slower to adapt than small businesses. They're not quite as nimble as we are. So what I'm seeing now is all of our restaurant suppliers ... are sitting on perishable goods and I hate food waste. I don't think now is a good time for us to waste food as a city, as a nation, as a world.

“The concept of tons and tons of food going bad, and then crowds and lines and shortages at grocery stores; obviously our current situation is broken. The model is just not working. We decided to get as creative as we could with it and got to do something to keep our staff employed, and try to keep working. So a lot of these items are things we get in every day anyway. And then I'm just turning around and basically selling for what we pay for them so that we keep everything moving and the food doesn't go bad.”

GWBJ: What are exactly the grocery items that will be moving through your restaurant?

Watkins: "We have a spinach, spring mix, tomatoes; we have avocados coming in. We've got onions, you name it. We've got a lot of produce. And then we're also having chicken. We're offering the chicken both raw and grilled, and we're telling folks to go home and cook it or we can cook it for them. Either way works. And then we're offering burgers and pizza usually, so we have all the things, every topping you can imagine. So we'll slice that by the pound, that meat, that cheese, whatever it is for you. We're just kinda making it up as we go. And then get better over time and we will improve. And we're slowly growing our delivery radius as well."

GWBJ: How are you getting your supply?

Watkins: "On Saturday we're going to do what we're calling a drive-thru farmers market. I've been reached out to by a couple of our produce vendors and some are seafood vendors and a lot of them are sitting on fresh product that's going go bad. So we're going to space them out and offer a market where you can literally drive through and pick up things so that it's a very safe process through getting local food. But as it stands, our standard foodservice providers ... they're still running their trucks and those warehouses are bursting at the seams right now because instead of having 220 restaurants in Wilmington to supply, half of them have already closed up.

"And most of us are running at 25-50% of our normal capacity. Even if we shifted to, to-go and curbside and delivery, it's not nearly the volume we're used to doing. So frankly, we have a surplus of food right now, so we just don't want to see it go bad and rots."

GWBJ: Do you feel this is another good way to boost business, profits and keep people employed?

Watkins: "Well, to be clear, I'm still losing money over here. But most importantly ... it's a way to prevent food waste, [support] a great local nonprofit that's stepping up in a difficult time. And yes, my ulterior motive, which I don't think is a very selfish one at all, is to keep our staff employed."

"We just hope that everybody will keep in mind that these are, these are local jobs. These are local, small businesses. You're going to have to get some supplies from grocery stores and potentially order things online. The more we can support local businesses right now the faster that we will recover from these unusual times.
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