Three representatives working to bring a Joe’s Crab Shack to Johnnie Mercer’s Pier met with town residents to present preliminary plans on Tuesday, Dec. 18. The meet and greet was part of the due diligence of Joe’s parent company, Ignite Restaurant Group, to discover if the Wrightsville Beach community is open to the idea, said Sue Bulluck, who has been hired as Ignite’s local public relations consultant.
At the meeting, Sean Rea, vice president of construction for Ignite, said the proposed Joe’s would be moving into the existing pier house building with the exterior of the building left intact. The restaurant would only occupy the building’s first floor. Rea said the majority of the work would be interior construction.
With the floorplan presented at the meeting, Todd Huntington, a representative from the GPD Group architecture firm, said there would be room for 174 seats inside the 5,700-square foot restaurant and 96 outside on the pier. Huntington said retrofitting locations was one of the qualities on which Joe’s prides itself.
“Joe’s always tries to tailor each building for the location and in that way it is able to avoid the cookie cutter style a lot of chains have,” Huntington said.
Rea said the oceanfront location of the pier was what drew the company’s interest, since it prefers to open locations in busy, waterfront areas.
The amount of traffic lining Salisbury Street and the Johnnie Mercer’s Pier public parking lot was one of the main concerns voiced by a few of the 20 attending residents. Rea said there were no plans to provide parking for customers, but that the company has secured an area on the mainland for employees to park to be shuttled to the restaurant.
Area resident and Wrightsville Beach Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee member Martha Chaffins said she thought the company chose the wrong beach.
“I think you have the wrong beach. I think you could do much better at Carolina Beach where there is more space,” she said. “A restaurant has to provide parking … I have genuine concerns about the traffic.”
In response, Rea said Ignite has completed a traffic study during the past year and found that traffic in the peak time for this restaurant — around the late afternoon and dinner time — was much less of a problem than during the middle of the day. Joe’s is usually open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and during the lunch hours in the summer season, Rea said the restaurant would most likely only draw people who are already on the beach. Bulluck also said she did not think traffic would be a major concern for the location because of that reason.
Another issue raised at the meeting was how the restaurant would affect locally-owned businesses on the island. Buddy Wiles, the owner of Buddy’s Crab House and Oyster Bar, expressed his support for the project. Bulluck also said she had received positive emails from the other businesses on Salisbury Street.
“When you group a commercial area together it actually draws more interest to the whole area,” Bulluck said. “Also these other businesses want this area cleaned up and this could do that.”
Along with leasing the pier house building for the resturant, Joe’s would be responsible for operating the pier’s access for fishermen and tourists. Huntington said there would be a sliding window on the south side of the building where fishermen would pay the pier fee to an attendant and access the pier.
At the end of the presentation, a large percentage of those in attendance raised their hands when asked if they thought it was a good opportunity for the community. Bulluck said the corporation has not yet filed for any permits with the town of Wrightsville Beach, but that the team would weigh the public input and decide whether to proceed with the process.
Rea said that if everything went smoothly, he would -anticipate the restaurant opening by Memorial Day 2014.