Magnolia Social Café is the newest restaurant in the Marina Village at RiverLights, the 1,400-acre mixed-use property being developed along the Cape Fear River in Wilmington. The community’s first restaurant
, Smoke on the Water, opened in December.
Owner Tammy Tilghman is a Wilmington native with a love of coffee. Her father used to sneak her sips of it when she was little, and she was hooked from the start. And coffee is often what keeps her going as the owner of a local bail bond company for the past 14 years.
Tilghman said that while she doesn’t ever see herself giving up bail bonding, she wanted something to balance out that work. She set her sights on opening a coffee and bake shop, but when she met with developers at Marina Village, they were looking for more than just a coffee shop -- they wanted a place that served breakfast and lunch as well.
Always up for a challenge and having fallen in love with the location, Tilghman said she enlisted the help of best friend Sharona Stokes, owner of County Seat Sports Grille in Lillington. She wanted to keep the menu simple, but also offer items unique enough to set them apart from other places in town.
With the help of Stokes and several corporate chefs specializing in menu design, Tilghman has created an eclectic mix of sweet and savory offerings, all made from scratch, from the waffle batter to the Alabama barbecue sauce to the buttercream frosting on the cupcakes.
“It was important to me to pull from as many different perspectives as possible when creating the menu so that it would be made up of not only food that I would want to eat, but items that would appeal to a wide range of customers,” Tilghman said.
Breakfast items include the Port City sandwich with an egg, baby portabellas, spinach, balsamic onion jam and shaved Parmesan on a brioche bun, and the wattle and waffle, with fried chicken and wild berry remoulade on a Belgian waffle bun.
For lunch, the Carolina cheesecake is prepared with sliced Angus beef, baby portabellas, caramelized onions, red-eye gravy and beer cheese on a toasted hoagie roll, and the moonraker melt combines fried chicken and apple salad with Swiss cheese and chopped romaine on a buttery croissant.
Magnolia also makes its own version of tater tots -- social tots -- that are fried to create a crispy outer shell around a creamy center. The tots are topped with shaved Parmesan and cracked black pepper and served with Alabama barbecue sauce.
Those with a sweet tooth will not be disappointed by the selection of homemade sweets such as cupcakes, key lime pie, bundt cakes and biscotti. Magnolia serves espresso drinks with coffee from local roaster Java Estates, as well as milkshakes and smoothies.
Tilghman is currently working on a picnic basket menu where customers can design their own picnic baskets and place orders in advance to enjoy on the RiverLights property or wherever they choose.
Tilghman said that offering outstanding customer service is just as important to her as serving great food. She uses Chick-fil-A’s customer service as a model for training her employees.
“When you go to Chick-fil-A, you get the same level of service whether you arrive at 7 a.m. on Monday morning or just before closing on Saturday night,” Tilghman said. “I expect my staff to provide that same level of customer service across the board.”
Tilghman was drawn to the community aspect of RiverLights and is excited to be among the first businesses to open in Marina Village. She hopes Magnolia Social Café will be a gathering space not only for the RiverLights community but the city of Wilmington.
Magnolia Social Café is located at 109 Pier Master Point in RiverLights and is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Later evening hours are expected through the summer months.
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