Expanding Tastes On Castle Street

By Meghan Corbett, posted Mar 15, 2024
Beth Guertin and John Willse stand in their Wilmington Wine shop with their dog, Bella. They recently moved the shop to a new location attached to their restaurant space Creative Tastings on Castle Street. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
As John Willse and Beth Guertin, owners of Wilmington Wine bottle shop and now the recently opened Creative Tastings restaurant on Castle Street know all too well, sometimes your purpose or direction in life chooses you rather than the other way around.

After a career in the restaurant business elsewhere, Willse found himself pulled to move back to his hometown of Wilmington. 

“I have been in the service industry for more than 30 years,” Willse said. “I was a touring musician and was making money where I could the old-fashioned way as a cook, as a bartender, as a server until I devoted the whole of my time eventually to music and touring. When I left the road, I fell back into the industry.”

Willse worked as general manager of a four-star Italian restaurant in New Orleans.

“I developed and maintained a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list in my time. After New Orleans, I moved to New York and was a startup manager for a three-star French restaurant in Manhattan, working with some of the greatest restauranteurs in the city at the time and to this day,” he said.

The move to Wilmington came after living abroad and owning a business in Thailand.

Wilmington Wine was already an established wine shop staple on Castle Street in Wilmington when Willse entered the picture in 2015. “But I had a great relationship with the owners at the time, and they asked if I would be willing to throw my hat in the ring to acquire it,” he said. “The decision wasn’t without difficulty, but sometimes, your direction finds you rather than you it. It’s now impossible to see myself without Wilmington Wine. From infrastructure to ambiance, we are extremely proud of what we have built over the last eight years.”

Willse and Guertin connected through their love of music, history, travel and wine.

“I had recently graduated with my master’s degree in history with a focus on Southeast Asia,” Guertin said. “We both loved cultural diversity, and at the heart of every culture is food and drink.”

Guertin was born in Seoul, and though she moved to the U.S. at the age of 2, her love of cultural heritage and travel encouraged her to study her own background. When the opportunity presented itself to expand the business recently with Creative Tastings, she considered it her calling.

“For me, Creative Tastings is a product of my lifetime. I am an artist, and food is my medium,” Guertin said. 

Creative Tastings, 701 Castle St., pairs with Wilmington Wine – now next door – to bring food offerings and dinner events. It has a limited bar menu Tuesdays-Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday brunch.

Monthly events have included an oyster roast featuring Wilmington-based Three Little Spats Oyster Co. and a wine-and-cheese pairing of northern European cheeses.

This year, for St. Patrick’s Day, they are offering a special Irish-inspired menu for the week, with plans for an Easter Sunday brunch as well.

Another regular offering focuses on Guertin’s love of Korean food with counter-service style for Korean street food on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“I traveled to Cambodia to do some field work at Angkor in Siem Reap, the first far-roaming international trip of my life,” Guertin said. “On the way, I stopped in Seoul for a few days and absolutely fell in love with the place, people and, of course, the food. It became a habit for me to host Korean BBQ dinners for friends, and at Wilmington Wine we would often host potlucks, so I could share my food. When the opportunity presented itself to acquire a restaurant space, it was a no-brainer. Now, I could finally take my love of cooking and share it with the community as a whole.”

Willse said their decision to move and expand was based on two factors. 

One was the need for a physical move. They had outgrown Wilmington Wine’s previous spot at 605 Castle St., and they got word that the 701 Castle St. space less than a block away was becoming available. 

“Secondly, Beth is one of the most talented and creative people I have ever known,” Willse said. “She is an amazing artist in a multitude of mediums; there was never even a question that she would rise to the challenge. She was very receptive to the idea, and we acquired the space for our restaurant.” 

Creative Tastings, or Wilmington Wine 2.0 as Willse calls it, boasts more space and more convenience. 

“We now have a full bar which is to say that, in addition to wine and beer, we now offer spirits with a host of rotating cocktails,” Willse said. 

The new name also came naturally to Willse and Guertin.

“When we decided it was time to really dive into a culinary venture, the name Creative Tastings was a perfect fit,” Guertin said. “Our goal was to create menus that were outside the familiar Southern fare and existing offerings in Wilmington. Knowing Korean-influenced food would be the base for the restaurant, we initially thought of a few Korean names but decided Creative Tastings was a much better fit since it would not pigeonhole us into one specific cuisine.”
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