Al fresco appetites

Jun 20, 2024 • 5 min. read | By David W. Frederiksen

They seem to be popping up everywhere like mushrooms overnight – outdoor patio and garden spaces conceived and constructed on premises by local restaurants and eateries to keep customers, boost business and build their brands.


Whether big, small, homemade or contracted out, the city’s outdoor dining spaces have almost become ubiquitous.


“It was really important we had outdoor space,” said Kristian Bawcom, owner of the recently opened Four Corners restaurant at 2025 Eastwood Road, close to Wrightsville Beach. “It was under construction from day one.”


Facing Eastwood Road and running the length of the building, Four Corners’ patio is wide and spacious, as it spills out from the main building through glass doors onto a concrete slab boasting 18 teak tables and chairs, multiple TVs, a fire pit and string lights.


Dark-stained decorative louvered shutters on the structure side of the patio lend a relaxed, tropical feel.


Above the porch entrance, like a low-hanging cloud, sits Four Corners’ sky-blue neon sign, the name a reference to an offensive strategy in basketball popularized by celebrated Chapel Hill basketball coach Dean Smith.


The original Chapel Hill-based Four Corners restaurant – and subsequently the inspiration behind the Wrightsville Beach location – is also owned by Bawcom.


Bawcom pointed out that an outdoor space existed on the one-time site of Soundside restaurant, formerly Boca Bay.


“There were six to eight tables and a firepit, but there was no real design,” he said. “You’re definitely going to have to spend some money to make (a space like this) comfortable.”


Four Corners’ future patio plans include an outdoor bar with 14 seats and an awning.


Dining on the Intracoastal at Bluewater Waterfront Grill in Wrightsville Beach (Photo c/o Wilmington and Beaches CVB)

It’s been worth every penny, said Bawcom, a surfer who grew up in South Florida.


“Every evening, this patio is full,” he said, noting that it’s too early to tell about the patio’s overall economic impact, as the restaurant just opened on April 17. “But what I can tell you is sales have been very consistent.”


Bawcom turned and ordered an unsweet tea as palm fronds in the background bristled and a breeze swept across the patio. “It just has a really cool vibe out here,” he said. “And customers love it.”


Cool vibes, along with trying to boost the bottom line through outdoor dining, are something Carl Cross also knows about.


“Having outdoor space boosts business,” said Cross, who along with business partners Andrew Dennison and Dean Moore own The Half sandwich shop and taproom at 510½ Red Cross St., the former home of Detour Deli. “It’s all about getting customers into seats. The patio helps us do that.”


Extra beer sales to quench parched tongues from outdoor noshing and nattering, said Cross, is just one example of an economic multiplier.  With limited seating inside the low-profile, brick building, Cross said he and his business partners have come to rely on the outdoor space.


“In spring and fall, overflow is actually inside,” said Cross, referring to the patio’s popularity.


He said the rise of such spaces locally boils down to one factor: “You’re in a beautiful beach town. Who doesn’t want to be outside?”


The Half’s patio is a cozy, fenced-in back lot with decking, brick and gravel. It holds six picnic tables and, at the far end, homemade benches and a fire pit. 


“The patio’s construction was self-funded,” said Cross, pointing to bench legs made of local, reclaimed wood. “We did it ourselves – we enjoy problem solving.”


Like Four Corners, The Half’s patio also had a former life.


“A patio footprint existed, but it only had two picnic tables and was underutilized,” Cross said.


Minutes passed, and a lunchgoer stepped out the rear exit onto the sunny patio and passed by. “I’d rather sit outside, it’s so cute,” the customer said.


As Cross got up from a picnic table, he made a confession.


“I personally prioritize restaurants with outdoor space,” he said. “Anybody thinking about doing it should. It’s definitely worth it.”


In the 200 block of Market Street, pizzeria and beer garden Ponysaurus Brewing Co., which opened in January, didn’t horse around when planning an outdoor eating and drinking space.


Covered and uncovered areas with picnic tables, umbrellas and a large outdoor fireplace welcome guests into a hideaway garden that seems far removed from busy Market Street.


“We opened our outdoor beer garden and front patio earlier this year,” said co-owner Nick Hawthorne-Johnson. “We created our terraced outdoor dining space, which used to be a parking lot, as a hideaway for drinking beers, eating and connecting with friends. Our front patio is a beautiful place to overlook downtown Market Street with a beer in hand.”

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