For longtime customers who mourned the closing of Wrightsville Beach’s longstanding Causeway Café, good news came quick.
A year ago, Causeway announced that the 32-year-old waterside eatery would shut its doors with the retirement of owner Dave Monaghan.
But not long after, Gulfstream Restaurant of Carolina Beach said it would take over the location, opening up its second spot.
Open since July, and after a complete redo, Gulfstream is welcoming old and new customers alike.
“Business is doing well, and everybody seems to love us so far,” says Zack Woodward, one of the owners in the new location.
It was not an easy go at first, said Ed Thomas, another owner.
“The old building was completely gutted – all the way down to the electrical,” he said.
Thomas’ wife, Kelli, added that the transformation was drastic.
“It was stripped back to the cinder block walls, and everything is different,” she said.
As far as design goes, the Wrightsville location is similar to the one in Carolina Beach except it is “lighter, brighter and all new,” Kelli Thomas said.
“We tried to pull some elements of the color scheme and casual aesthetic of our other location,” she said. “The main difference is the Carolina Beach restaurant was designed with locals and fishermen in mind and a distinct boating theme.
“But the Wrightsville Beach one is similar but definitely with a fresher, more modern vibe.”
Ed Thomas is a busy man these days since he also owns the Carolina Beach location as well. With one restaurant already established, he focuses a lot of his time on his new spot.
“One of the challenges getting off the ground has been staffing,” he said. “We are really picky about who we hire and want the best.”
Ed Thomas is well aware of the challenge he was up against in opening Gulfstream. He knows the Causeway was a beloved landmark for the Wrightsville Beach community and admits he is not trying to be “the old Causeway.”
The owner is open to suggestions from customers while at the same time quick to point out the differences between Causeway and Gulfstream.
For one thing, the actual seating space is bigger.
“Causeway had 45 seats, and we have 70,” he said.
Also, the new restaurant is open for lunch longer – until 3 p.m. And the Wrightsville Beach location is open for dinner just like the Carolina Beach restaurant.
“We just have to keep educating our customers about that,” Ed Thomas said. “It is even a struggle at our old location. We are heavily associated as a breakfast and lunch spot.”
He speaks excitedly about an addition that he thinks will be a major draw – especially in the summertime. A new screened-in outdoor patio is in the works that has an additional 25 seats.
The owners at the Wrightsville Gulfstream are constantly evolving to adapt to the needs of its new location. For example, menu items that work at Carolina Beach don’t necessarily transfer over. “We were so used to the rice pudding and sweet potatoes being a big seller, and that is not the case at Wrightsville,” Ed Thomas said.
The menu features the expected breakfast diner fare with omelets, biscuits and pancakes. Fried flounder plays a starring role – over cheese grits for breakfast, in a sandwich for lunch and next to hushpuppies and coleslaw for a dinner platter.
Looking towards the immediate future, Ed Thomas is evaluating the menu in hopes of anticipating what his Wrightsville Beach customers might like.
“We may revise items on the menu this spring/summer,” he said. “For example, we want to make some breakfast selections more upto- date and modern, such as offering avocado toast.”
There are also plans in the works to change up some side items.
“We would like to offer more vegetarian side dishes,” he said. “Basically, we will be testing our market.”
So far, Ed Thomas said he is happy with the stream of customers visiting the new location.
“The feedback we are hearing on a daily basis is that our clientele are ecstatic with what we have done,” he said. “They are loving the renovations and overall atmosphere.”
He estimates that about 70% of the old Causeway clientele comes through his doors. Adding to that group are customers who live closer to the Wrightsville location and are now pleased not to have to trek down to Carolina Beach from where they are for their Gulfstream fix.
“My goal,” Ed Thomas said, “was to bring a bright, beachy space that is welcoming to all ages and most importantly, fit in with the Wrightsville community.”