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Catching Up With Chefs Dean Neff And Lydia Clopton

By Jessica Maurer, posted Aug 12, 2020
While chefs Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton have been enjoying some extra family time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, both have still been working steadily on keeping things going at both Love Lydia Bakery and Cafe and Neff’s new project, Seabird Restaurant at the corner of Front and Market streets.

After being closed for two months, Love Lydia is now open Saturdays and Sundays for carryout and outdoor dining. Clopton said those days have always been the busiest for the cafe, so keeping things simple and opening only on the weekends is the most feasible model right now.

Clopton also continues to provide wholesale orders to area restaurants, which she said have been picking back up recently, and sells a variety of breads and baked goods at the Wilmington Farmer’s Market, temporarily located at Seagate Baptist Church.

“With just myself and two employees, we felt this was the best option as opposed to going head first back into things,” Clopton said. “Things are still constantly changing and this way, if for some reason we have to close again, we’re not facing as much waste.”

Neff said that despite a bit of a slowdown due to the pandemic, construction is moving forward at 1 South Front St. While he had originally hoped to open in June of this year, he said he’s now shooting for December or possibly January 2021.

“I think we’ve gotten through a lot of the big issues and the building schedule is back under control,” Dean Neff said.

Neff said he’s been very pleased with the work done by local general contractor Christopher Yermal and his team at Old School Rebuilders.

Neff is also working with Atlanta-based designers Smith Hanes to create a design that he said “will very much reflect the feel of downtown Wilmington.”

With COVID-19 having such a huge impact on the restaurant industry, Neff said he has been trying to assess what some of the permanent changes to the industry might look like going forward.

He’s now adding more outdoor seating at Seabird than was originally planned, and thinking through floor plans that can allow for more spacing between interior tables. Seabird will have all touchless hand sinks in the kitchen, and touchless bathroom faucets and hand dryers with special filters to help filter the air and sanitize.

Seabird will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menus will focus heavily on local seafood and seasonal ingredients. Neff is working to develop separate carryout menus featuring items that will travel well.

He also plans to offer curbside pickup by using some of the parking spaces on Front Street that are designated as loading zones.

“I think having a carryout menu and the option for curbside pickup is something that we’ll be looking to incorporate as part of our model for the long term,” Neff said.

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