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I see the Mayor is getting out his signs again this year. This is a welcome sight because he deserves another term for...

Winterville awakening: Strong economy spurs energy downtown

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An aerial view of Winterville provided by the town looks north along Railroad Street to the right and Mill Street to the left. Main Street runs east-west through the center of the image.

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Morgan Banville

Sunday, July 28, 2019

WINTERVILLE — Word is getting out about the growth and good income spurring Greenville’s southern neighbor, and it is helping to create a new buzz in its downtown district.

The town’s economy has been on a 15-year climb, Economic Development Planner Stephen Penn said, with the area’s high household income average leading the way.

The 2013-2017 Census American Community Survey estimates that the average household income in Winterville is $85,973, a figure closer to Raleigh’s $86,374 than Greenville’s $58,279.

“I go to conferences to show developers the area and it’s just kind of unique,” Penn said. “The developers are blown away.”

Much of this growth is from young-family professionals, Penn said.

“It’s the same demographic that breweries and upscale restaurants thrive on,” Penn said. “We hope to enhance downtown Winterville as an attraction for families and adults throughout the region.”

Main and Mill Oyster Bar and Tavern, 204 Main St., capitalized on that trend by revamping the old Wimpie’s Steam Bar and Grill. Owners David and Kelly Munoz now are working with Nauti Dog Brewing Co. to open in an adjacent building and a second brewery, The Local Oak, is opening nearby.

“Breweries and restaurants create a livelier downtown. They enhance the 8 a.m.-5 p.m. businesses in the downtown region; they attract people to live within walking, biking and ‘golf-carting’ distance to downtown, as well,” Penn said. “We expect that these new businesses will attract more business downtown.”

Main and Mill is an upscale, unique restaurant that serves as an anchor to downtown, Penn said, attracting visitors from throughout the area to “enjoy a great meal in a beautiful setting.”

Owner David Munoz grew up in Miami, Fla., and has spent the past 12 years in North Carolina. He and Kelly opened Main and Mill in March.

“It’s easy to give directions to — just go to the corner of Main and Mill,” Munoz said. “There’s a convenience and ease to the name since the streets intersect.”

The restaurant tends to draw in a younger crowd, in the 30-40 range, he said.

“I own the whole building. It made sense to me for Nauti Dogs to be located on the side of the restaurant,” Munoz said. “A brewery goes well, and it’ll only add to our business.”

Nauti Dog patrons will have a chance to try the food from Main and Mill, he said.

“I’m excited to have another place in the area and draw in the brewery,” Munoz said. “We have variety. It isn’t just a seafood place. We have great land options. The cooks we have are very talented.”

Nauti Dog, 210 Main St., is owned and operated by partners Jon Tart and Janis and Chuck Smith. It is set to open in the fall.

“We are super excited about opening,” Tart said. “We would like to see downtown Winterville become a very exciting place for people to hang out.”

Smith said she and her husband, Chuck, started home brewing 10 years ago.

“We had a friend who did it and we thought we could too. We met Jon and he was a home brewer as well,” Smith said. “Back in the day five or six of us would get together and make recipes in our backyard. We all had dogs and we would sit around telling stories ...

“We were told a story one day about a dog that was running on the sand bar with a bikini top in its mouth. We laughed about the dog and the play on words and said if we ever opened a brewery we would name it after the naughty dog.”

Once the name was set, the idea took off, she said. At the time, breweries were opening up all around them. They started working on their ideas before popular Greenville breweries like Pitt Street and Uptown were up and running.

“We said, ‘Let’s just try and see how far we can get.’ We took the same approach with writing a business plan and choosing a location,” Smith said. “We are excited about the location we ended up getting. I’m a sucker for older buildings. I really like the idea about repurposing the building.”

Nauti Dog plans to have six brews on tap including an IPA, a light beer, porters/stouts, wheat beer and rotators and seasonals. Patrons will be able to order off the Main and Mill menu and a door between the businesses will allow visitors to float between them.

Around the corner, brewer Benjamin Self and his wife, Amy Amacker, are aiming to open a nano-brewery they are calling the Local Oak in early October.

The couple is renovating a building at 2564 Railroad St. and purchased the neighboring lot at 183 Depot St., which features the large live oak tree that gives the business its name.

The tree has been there for decades, so it is a landmark for a lot of locals, Self said. The couple wanted their name to pay tribute to one of the town’s icons.

“We felt it had a more universal appeal to it and reflected the beauty of the old oak tree next door,” Self said.

A nano-brewery typically is not focused on distribution to store shelves, Self said.

“We will have a three-barrel brew house and the majority of our beer will be sold directly from our taproom,” Self said. “We drink a lot of craft beer. We ran the numbers one day and realized starting a brewery would be cheaper for us long term.”

The couple wants their brewery to be a destination, especially since they live in Winterville and see a lot of potential in the location.

“I grew up in Alabama and went to school for chemical engineering there. The economy crashed right when I graduated,” Self said. “I got involved in the ‘Free the Hops’ movement in Birmingham and basically begged for a job at Good People Brewing once craft beer was legalized there. I worked for them for several years before moving to this great state for a job at Duck-Rabbit (in Farmville). I now live in Winterville with my wife and a couple of really fat cats.”

Self is excited to appeal to the young professionals in the community as well as those living close to the area, including East Carolina University students. The Local Oak will feature food trucks as often as possible and Self mentioned that they are creating a special space for them in their beer garden.

“We want to produce clean, noteworthy beers, and we want to provide a cozy taproom and sprawling outdoor beer garden where people can have an authentic, laid-back experience,” Self said. “Many breweries can’t regularly produce new recipes because of distribution contracts, marketing costs, other shareholders, etc. We are small enough to adapt our recipes to what the market calls for in real time.”

Penn said many other new and existing businesses add to Winterville’s energy.

Magnolia Grace Boutique is a clothing and jewelry store that opened up this year; N.C. Driving School is the largest driving education service in the state; the Dixie Queen Seafood Restaurant is a family-owned seafood restaurant open since 1972; Winterville Insurance Agency opened in 1962; and Winterville Flower Shop, Pampered Pooches Pet Salon and L’ Académie De Danse draw regular customers downtown.

“Downtown Winterville is small in area but extremely successful and full of diverse businesses,” Penn said. “A successful downtown is one that is not only alive during the 8-5 office hours but throughout the day and night. We are looking forward to having these businesses as a part of the Winterville downtown.”

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