Food Hall Incubator Block Eatz Opens On CFCC's North Campus

By Emma Dill, posted Sep 20, 2023
Customers consider the menu at Cultura 311 ahead of the Block Eatz ribbon cutting on Tuesday. (Photo by Emma Dill)
A food hall incubator that aims to support budding restauranteurs throughout the Wilmington area hosted a ribbon cutting this week.

Food hall Block Eatz opened Tuesday for the first time in the McKeithan Center on Cape Fear Community College’s North campus. The newly opened space is the product of a partnership between Genesis Block, a company founded by Girard and Tracey Newkirk to support entrepreneurs, and Cape Fear Community College’s Small Business Center.

The concept of Block Eatz is it supplies food entrepreneurs with the sometimes costly infrastructure that’s needed to get a new business off the ground, including real estate and a fully equipped commercial kitchen. Block Eatz also aims to offer support for budding entrepreneurs to maintain and grow their businesses.

“Our mission here is to partner with local food entrepreneurs from ideation to commercialization,” Girard Newkirk said Tuesday.

CFCC President Jim Morton noted Tuesday that the effort is the first of its kind in the Cape Fear region.

The food hall is located on the ground floor of the McKeithan Center in a space formerly occupied by Port City Java. A range of vendors will operate in the food hall space depending on the day of the week.

To start, The First Bite, a breakfast-focused food truck business, will operate in the space on Monday and Friday while taco shop Cultura 311, an offshoot of Paella Fusion food truck, is scheduled to operate on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

For Yanni Lopez, who owns Cultura 311 and Paella Fusion with her husband, operating out of Block Eatz will bring their business to the “next level,” she said. Since starting the business in 2019, Lopez has wanted to expand into a brick-and-mortar location. 

“This will be a great opportunity for us to wet our feet and see if this is something that we are ready for,” she said.

Although the Paella Fusion food truck typically parks on the North campus at least one day during the week to serve students, Tuesday was the first time Cultura 311 was open to customers in the Block Eatz space. By the afternoon, things were busy, Lopez said. 

“It’s like they were waiting for us,” she said.

Cultura 311’s menu includes tacos, nachos, burritos, quesadillas and fusion fries. Eventually, Lopez said she plans to incorporate a wider array of foods that often feature in the food truck.

On Mondays and Fridays, The First Bite plans to serve up breakfast burritos and bowls alongside bacon, pancakes and chicken and waffles. The food truck started three summers ago as a way to fill a niche that wasn’t being served, said Corey Maxson, who co-owns the truck with Brian Glisson.

Locating in Block Eatz is “great on multiple levels,” Maxson said, because it gives the business a captive audience and involves lower risk than a more traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. In the new space, Maxson said he’s hoping they can continue growing the business.

“Hopefully, we can multiply on this concept,” he said. “That’s the end goal.”

In addition to helping support food entrepreneurs like Lopez and Maxson, Block Eatz will provide more food options to northern New Hanover County, Girard Newkirk said.

“Ultimately, we’re going to activate a food desert,” he said. “We’re going to give opportunities to local entrepreneurs with low-cost, low-risk to provide new concepts to the community.”

Block Eatz will be open to students and the public Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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