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Downtown Coffee Shop Changes Hands

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Mar 18, 2024
After eight years, popular downtown Wilmington coffee shop Bespoke has a new owner. (Photo by Emma Dill)
After eight years, Bespoke Coffee & Dry Goods owner Chris Batten is selling the popular downtown Wilmington coffee shop.

The sale to bar and restaurant owner Robby Dow was announced in a news release issued Monday afternoon. Dow created the beverage program at Olivero with Sunny Gerhart and Lauren Krall Ivey after a four-year career as the beverage director of a cocktail bar in Brooklyn.

Located at 202 Princess St., Bespoke became popular among Wilmington locals, tourists and the film industry.

Batten knew he wanted to sell the business after about 10 years, he told the Business Journal. He is involved in multiple ventures, including the Bevvy Mart he expects to open in June on Wrightsville Beach with his business partner Mason Barnes. He needed more time to work on opening the new project, he said. Batten felt he did not have the time to continue evolving Bespoke, the release states. 

The search for new ownership began in October when Batten reached out to Terry Espy, owner of real estate brokerage MoMentum Companies, for mentorship on where to take the business next. Espy advised Batten to explore the option of selling Bespoke due to the “lack of second generation restaurant spaces in Wilmington,” according to the release. However, the deal was contingent on finding the “right buyer” who would continue to develop the shop’s offerings. 

The coffee shop couldn't be listed on the market like any other real estate property due to the flood of interest Batten knew would be imminent, he said. People called him once a month with an offer for the downtown space, he said. Once Espy convinced him to sell, he spoke with multiple candidates before connecting with Dow, Batten said. 

"He's going to take (Bespoke) to levels that it should be at because it's got one of the best corner spaces in Wilmington," Batten said. "There's a lot of great things on that block, people who have been there for a while... Now look at it."

Bespoke's creative styling started as a brand experiment, Batten said. He was made fun of when it first opened because it was so unique at the time. Now that it has taken off, he has no problem letting it go, he said.

Dow has been looking for a new project for about one year, he told the Business Journal. He attempted to purchase a property on Castle Street that didn't work out before connecting with Batten. The Bespoke team knew of Dow from his work with Olivero and he frequented the coffee shop as a customer. He said he felt very familiar with the space and people. 

Now that he owns the shop, Dow will work to develop a craft cocktail and beverage program over the next several months, he said, using his background in the Triangle region and New York City. The hope is to not change things, he said; the coffee and staff will remain the same. Adding a cocktail presence to Bespoke and extending its hours later into the evening are two of his intentions with the space. 

Dow also plans to develop the restaurant arm of the shop, teaming up with the “right” chef to offer a menu complimenting daytime coffee and nighttime cocktails, he said. Dow is in talks with several local chefs about the partnership and will announce his choice soon. 

"I've been around for a year and a half and so I've managed to meet a lot of (chefs) and work with some of them," Dow said. "I think Wilmington has some really awesome shops, some really, really cool restaurants and cocktails are are still growing here."
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