OBX Milestones – Spring 2014
We defy you to write something about kite flying or hang gliding on Jockey’s Ridge without mentioning Kitty Hawk Kites or its owner, John Harris. They are inseparable images. The story of catching a lifting breeze ‘just so’ inside a fabric airfoil has been told by as many different media outlets as there are flyers who have attempted their first jumps. TripAdvisor and Travel Channel are predictable sources to find Kitty Hawk Kites press. But when a business on the Outer Banks gets picked up by USA Today, National Geographic or the far-flung Denver Post, you begin to see how this local company has managed to stay put after forty years of business – that’s forty years focused around a shifting sand dune, no less.
When asked to name a pivotal moment in their history, Harris says, “just getting started and finding a building [was a challenge]. I walked into one realtor’s office during the winter of 1974 and stated that I wanted to start a hang-gliding school and sell gliders. He laughed me out of the office. I owe a lot to Stan White (who probably thought I was crazy) but helped me anyway.” What was once a laughable idea is now housed in 15 stores on the Carolina Coast and employs nearly 350 during peak summer months. Kitty Hawk Kite’s mission statement, “To teach the world to fly!” bears out in the following numbers: the flight school has taught over 300,000 students how to fly since 1974 and boasts almost 20 different adventures, sports, tours and activities on land, sea, and air to choose from. Kitty Hawk Kites in Nags Head is located at Milepost 12.5 on the Bypass. kittyhawk.com [divider]
You do not have to live on the Outer Banks to know what the Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar logo looks like. Their famous t-shirts and logo apparel have been spotted all over the world. More importantly, for over 30 years, Awful Arthur’s has served oysters by the peck, pound and dozen, raw or steamed to perfection and has been rated one of the top ten oyster bars in the nation by Coastal Living Magazine. Owner, Jo Whitehead proudly states they are an authentic oyster bar and “with that big steamer in front, watching them cook and prep your food … people just want to sit there and nowhere else!” During their busiest weeks in July, Awful Arthur’s can serve 60 bushels a week. Whitehead explains, “It’s a myth that you can’t get oysters year-round; it depends on water temperature. In high-heat months we find the cooler waters and get them from the Gulf, the James River or the Eastern Shore.”
The Kill Devil Hills restaurant features one of the Outer Banks’ only ocean-view lounges and has also been recognized by Esquire Magazine for their steamed, spiced shrimp. When asked about the secret behind 30 years of success, Jo Whitehead will give the credit to her staff. Restaurants are a “fickle business,” said Whitehead. “I’ve had a lot of my staff longer than I’ve had my kids” says the mother of a 14 and an 18 year old. She added, “It’s really neat for the customers to see the same wait staff from year to year.” Awful Arthur’s is located at Milepost 6 on the Beach Road. awfularthursobx.com [divider]
In the 1980s, Debra and PJ Sinkage were opening up their New York bakery at 4 a.m. each morning and providing Manhattan commuters with tasty, baked goods on their way into the city. As one customer after another reported their plans to move to North Carolina, they decided to research a similar escape for their own family. With three children in tow, the youngest still an infant, they found just what they were looking for and opened up Argyles on the Outer Banks in 1989. Now in their 25th year, they have changed their business model to adapt to the changing demands of the area and the industries. “For years, baking was our claim to fame,” said Debra. She adds that their next big hits were “killer lunch menu items like homemade chicken salad, fresh baked breads and traditional Reubens. We were so popular that folks wanted us to extend into the dinner hour,” which explains how their fine dining business began. Each new venture has been a success for Argyles and the Sinkage family.
The latest change added “Sea Salt Grille” in front of the famous Argyles name to reflect a return to the more casual, bistro style dining made popular in their early days. “Every hour is happy hour,” boasts the menu. Debra said that customers really appreciate full size proteins paired with happy hour pricing on all menu items. Never ones to rest, the Sinkages have several side ventures: Argyles’ Events and Catering started with the burgeoning wedding industry on the Outer Banks; “Icing on the Cake,” is their wedding bakery specialty business; and “Sweet Duck” at Scarborough Faire features authentic homemade gelato creations. Sea Salt Grille is located at Milepost 2.5 on the Bypass. seasaltgrille.com [divider]
As predictably as the warmer temperatures of spring will bring homeowners and travelers across the bridge, so will the doors of many Outer Banks restaurants and businesses swing open for the start of their next season. Commitment to a year-round business is unusual here; locals know that. But if you ask Sam McGann and John Power, the owners of Blue Point Restaurant, about their decision to stay open year-round, they will explain, “While it may not look like a good financial decision to stay open during the winter, it’s the right business decision for us. We go into each winter knowing we are going to lose money, but sustaining our staff and establishing ourselves to the local homeowners as a year-round community presence, that’s why we do it.”
Now, celebrating 25 years at the Waterfront Shops in Duck, their business decision has proven to be a wise one. Blue Point has been recognized by both Southern Living and Gourmet magazines as ‘a must visit’ on the Outer Banks. McGann explains that working at the Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg where menus changed with each season helped influence their “farm to table” approach when they started in 1989 and “we were fortunate enough to have a farmer’s market right in our parking lot.” Blue Point built such a reputation that they were unable to showcase all their culinary talents in the original space so the partners began, and later sold, Ocean Boulevard and Good Life Gourmet. Blue Point’s 2005 expansion to 100+ seats provided them with the space they need to keep that talent under one roof and look forward to many more years of “seasonally driven dishes combined with Southern graciousness.” The Blue Point is located in the Waterfront Shops in Duck. thebluepoint.com [divider]
Captain Stuart Wescott, a ninth generation Outer Banks native spent summers as a youth exploring the local waters, fishing, crabbing, hunting and trapping; his adult summers are now spent showing that same wildlife to Outer Banks visitors. When contemplating his 20th year in the business and asked for his secret, Wescott said simply, “I love what I do.” Captain Wescott grew up two blocks from the Manteo Waterfront Marina where the tours depart and his family still lives on waterfront property that has been in his family for over 250 years. The twin-engine, 55 foot “Captain Johnny” holds 49 passengers and is named after his grandfather who was a commercial fisherman after retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Captain Johnny’s season spans mid-May through mid-October matching the season when most tourists are on the Outer Banks. The most popular tours are the sunset dolphin tour and the “guaranteed” dolphin watch which simply means, if you don’t see a dolphin, you can join another tour for free. In over 200 tours last season that only happened four times reports Wescott. More often, boaters see dozens of dolphin during their ride. Last season, a CNN news reporter boarded one of his tours and posted his family’s experiences on the CNN Travel website. It was a “pleasant surprise” when a friend sent me the article said Captain Wescott, “I didn’t even know he was on board.” He adds with a laugh, “I guess you could say all of my tours are unscripted.” Captain Johnny’s is located on the Manteo Waterfront Boardwalk. outerbankscruises.com