Tradition and innovation dine side-by-side at Beach Shop and Grill in Topsail Beach.
From a humble soda shop to an upscale bistro, Beach Shop and Grill shines a bit more brightly every year, and this, its 70th year in Topsail Beach, is no exception.
Since 1952, when the restaurant opened as Bill Warren’s Soda Shop, it has served up quality food for Topsail Beach residents and visitors. Back then it was hot dogs, burgers and milk shakes. Today it could be an appetizer of N.C. Cheshire pork belly followed by sweet corn lobster ravioli along with favorite entrees such as shrimp and grits.
Owners Jeff and Cheryl Price are celebrating 20 years of ownership of the beloved restaurant with new menus, including Sunday brunch, a patio renovation and the arrival of an award-winning chef.
Beach Shop and Grill moved to its current location at the corner of Davis Avenue and Anderson Boulevard years after Hurricane Hazel hit the island in 1954. In 2002 the Prices bought it from Hap Alexander.
Beach Shop and Grill stories are legendary in Topsail Beach. Almost everybody has one. Ray McAllister’s book Topsail Island: Mayberry By the Sea carries some of this history. Many first, and lasting, loves began at Warren’s Soda Shop, where teenagers held jobs scooping ice cream. Generations of families return year after year to the venerable restaurant.
The restaurant has survived hurricanes Hazel, Fran and, most recently, Florence. Many Topsail Island residents remember the pictures and videos — the first views of flooding — the Prices posted to Facebook after Hurricane Florence. But no storm has taken away the stalwart restaurant nor ruined the beauty of the original knotty pine ceilings.
The ceiling and walls have been tweaked and decorated over time as the soda shop matured, Cheryl says.
“First, we upgraded the kitchen with essentials — a walk-in freezer and cooler. Then we moved on to refresh the dining room with a new bar made from 100-year-old tobacco barn wood, and custom tables and booths. We are always growing and reinvesting back into the business.”
Cheryl’s culinary school education and five-star hotel background help move the restaurant forward, keeping up with culinary trends and growth. She selects the restaurant wines, characterizing them as “highly allocated wines, mostly small boutique productions. Wines that pair well with fresh, farm or ocean to table style items and are meant to be consumed with a delicious meal.”
The restaurant hosts annual wine dinners, a New Year’s Eve dinner and a Valentine’s Day dinner. “The dinners sell out within the initial 48 hours,” Cheryl says.
Jeff was in steakhouse management and a food broker and knew the previous owner of Beach Shop. He brought Cheryl out to visit the island, where he saw potential for good bourbon and great food. Now, 20 years later, their innovative ideas have guests lining up for hours awaiting a table in the summer season.
This anniversary brings a new chef and new seasonal offerings. Chef Jordan Keen, a Chicago transplant by way of Florida, is an award-winning chef just finishing a year’s residency as executive chef in Price Tower, Frank Lloyd Wrights’ only fully recognized skyscraper.
“He is a great teacher and leader,” Cheryl says. “People want to work harder and be more creative because he stokes the fires of creativity. He wants staff input. I enjoy working with him and getting to know him.”
Chef Keen uses Spanish, South African, Indian and Moroccan techniques and flavors in many of the new items on the menus. A couple of examples include whole fried local vermillion snapper with caramelized bok choy, Anson Mills forbidden black rice and nuoc cham, a staple of Vietnamese cooking, and the North Carolina Brasstown hanger steak with crispy beef fat potatoes, collards, fried garlic and foie gras demi.
As catering and special events have grown, the Prices purchased the house next door to the restaurant last fall. The home will be remodeled to offer housing to a bride and groom or others using the restaurant for a special event while the additional space has allowed the Prices to expand outdoor seating to almost 30.
The Patio has its own look and feel. The menu features local seafood such as crab cakes with pickled vegetables and gochujang aioli, carne asada with papas bravas, shishito peppers and a delicious smash burger made with Black Angus beef, American cheese and hand-cut bacon.
Sunday brunch is another new addition in this anniversary year with a menu that features brunch standards like fresh house-made biscuits and sausage gravy, chicken and waffles, braised apple French toast and kimchi grilled cheese.
Specialty cocktails have ramped up, too. Favorites like Mabel’s Punch, proceeds of which support bulldog rescue (the Prices have five) and the Blueberry-Lavender Mojito are joined by newbies Summer in Tulum, made with Sauza tequila, Cointreau, cucumber, sour and cilantro, and Up All Night, made with espresso, Stoli vanilla, Frangelico and Godiva liqueurs.
One secret to the Prices’ success, employees say, is that they treat their employees like family members. Many employees stay six, seven or eight years, though Cheryl knows it’s good for people to move on, leave the nest or venture into a new career.
“We stay in touch with almost everyone,” Cheryl says. “Some of the best employees are the college kids here for the summer. We hosted the rehearsal dinner for a former employee’s wedding just last month.”
D’Artanyn Alonge, who joined the staff this season, says Jeff and Cheryl make the environment the best he’s experienced in seven years of restaurant service.
“We try all the daily features so we can articulate them to the patrons,” he says. “All the sauces and mixes are house made, which takes some common dishes and makes them extraordinary.”
D’Artanyn also says Jeff and Cheri are generous and appreciate feedback. “They each bring their own expertise to the restaurant and they want to improve the food and experience for the patrons,” he says. “You can make a suggestion, and it doesn’t have to go up three levels before it’s implemented.”
It’s their attention to detail that makes Beach Shop distinct, he adds. “You can see Cheryl’s love of wines in our list of over 200 wines. She’s generous, teaching us about these fabulous wines at staff wine tastings.”
Part of the Prices’ hard work is staying on top of food trends. They research James Beard award-winning restaurants around the country, dining in them and exploring what they do to keep moving forward in the food-service industry. As Cheryl says: “You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and expect to be in business tomorrow.”
“We’ve been here 20 years, and we still love coming to work,” Cheryl says. “We enjoy the creative process of pairing food with wine or cocktails. Our guests don’t come here to eat; they come here to dine. We can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Want to go?
Beach Shop and Grill
701 S. Anderson Boulevard, Topsail Beach
Photography by Matt Ray