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Hospitality

Making Room For Outdoor Dining

By Shea Carver, posted Sep 18, 2020
Sarah Rushing Doss and her husband, James Doss, owners of Rx Restaurant and Bar, are adding outdoor space to their Wilmington eatery. (Photo by Michael Cline Spencer)
The U.S. is in month six of dealing with a global pandemic. North Carolina is in phase 2.5 of allowing openings of approved businesses.
 
As a result, many eateries and drinkeries—including distilleries, bottle shops, wineries and breweries (still, no bars)—are expanding outdoor spaces to accommodate more customers and help with increased revenue.
 
More so, it’s a safer protocol to follow in the coronavirus pandemic, as any droplets and particles customers breathe will disperse quicker in open air than when inside.
 
Rx installed a Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization system to purify air circulating from their HVAC for indoor diners; however, owners James and Sarah Rushing Doss said they felt the time was right to begin listening to customer requests, too. Regulars have been asking for outdoor seating at the eatery at Fifth Avenue and Castle Street for a while now.
 
“We didn’t want to haphazardly pull some tables out on the sidewalk to try to make it work,” Rushing Doss tells. “That is not the Rx experience we want to provide.”
 
To match the artful and cozy vibe of their upscale Southern cuisine, they enlisted the help of Christopher Yermal of Old School Rebuilders to help preserve green space and redevelop existing structures. Yermal will add a 48-by-20-foot enclosed and covered space off the side of the building. Although it will take up part of Rx’s parking lot, the Rescue Mission of Cape Fear across the street has allowed them use of their lot, in addition to surrounding offstreet parking.
 
“We plan to install large louvered shutters around the perimeter of the space to encourage or restrict airflow based on the weather/season,” Rushing Doss adds. "We’re also going to install sola tubes in the ceiling, which will provide enough light to grow plants in the space.”
 
To break up the space, there will be permanent nature-based art installations from local sculptor Michael Van Hout.
 
The courtyard addition will include 30 to 40 seats, with tables separated 6 feet per social-distancing measures. It will double Rx’s current capacity to help them achieve pre-COVID numbers of occupancy. More so, it gives the Dosses more ideas and opportunities to grow their business.
 
“We want patrons to enjoy their entire experience while dining with us, and ambience is a part of that,” Rushing Doss says. “After COVID-19 is behind us, we'll then have so much flexibility with [the patio]. We can host events and private parties, art shows, intimate concerts, fundraisers, beer and wine dinners, oyster roasts, pig pickin’. . . The possibilities feel endless.”
 
Up the street at 1815 Castle, End of Days Distillery co-owner Beth Faulkner also envisions live music, events and parties on their newly constructed outdoor space. The $20,000 addition utilizes eight barrels from their distillery as hightop tables, flanked by four barstools each. It also has sail shades to comfortably situate 32 more customers.
 
“Although this was something that was in our eventual plans, COVID forced us to move forward earlier than expected,” Faulkner says. Actually, the distillery won the 2020 Coastal Entrepreneur Award for Covid Innovation. “Ensuring social distancing for our customers was a top priority once we were allowed to reopen.”
 
Customers are required to maintain social distance in public space, wear masks when entering the distillery and walking around, plus when interacting with staff (also required to wear masks at all times). Masks can only be removed when eating and drinking.
 
EOD sustained business through the pandemic by selling to-go bottles of award-winning hand-crafted gin, vodka and rum (recognized by the 2020 Denver International Spirits Competition, NY International Spirits Competition and SIP International Awards). It also began production of hand sanitizer from its overrun of pure-grain alcohol.
 
“We began by giving out free hand sanitizer to healthcare and essential workers,” Faulkner says. "In addition to this initiative we were able to support many small businesses and corporations that needed assistance [securing the hard-to-come-by sanitizer].”
 
The distillery operates Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and has food trucks booked most Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
 
“We finished our rickhouse a few months ago and have started our aging products line,” Faulkner said. “We hope to release barrel-rested gin later this year, in addition to barrel- aged rum.”
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