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In Downtown Wilmington, Lunch May Be Most Important Meal of the Day

By Megan V. Williams

Wilmington, NC – Travis Eggers thinks his new restaurant has the perfect location - tons of foot traffic and just blocks from the courthouse, Thalian Hall and Front Street, with thriving businesses all around.

Of course, that may be exactly what the last four restaurants that tried to make a go of it on this corner of Princess and Second streets thought, too.

This time, Eggers has two advantages. The most obvious is name recognition. He's re-opening Taste of Country barbecue, the landmark meat-and-three that closed its location on South Front Street last year.

But the second advantage is more speculative; Eggers is one of a tide of entrepreneurs who've made it their job to fill the hungry mouths arriving with the opening of PPD's new headquarters, while turning a hopeful eye toward the planned Convention Center and other downtown projects. Across the street from Taste of Country is Catch, a lunch and breakfast-only seafood restaurant, and down the block Tango du Chat has added a lunch menu of its own. Big, a new Thai place, is opening on North 4th street, and there's a new Italian place in the Cotton Exchange, among others.

In all, a quarter of new restaurant permits in Wilmington went to downtown establishments in the last six months, and some of the newest eateries may not yet have even applied for a license.

Wilmington Downtown Inc. interim director Don Britt has definitely noticed the increase in restaurants, which he says started before the arrival of PPD but has really taken off lately as badge-wearing pharmaceutical workers have started to swell the lunchtime crowd.

A little fewer than 600 employees are currently working out of PPD's new headquarters, which has no cafeteria, but that number is expected to top well over a thousand when the building reaches capacity.

Britt says he's noticed the new workers when driving around downtown in the middle of the day. "They're pretty upscale employees... They're well dressed and they present a nice appearance in downtown," he says.

Upscale isn't exactly the goal at Taste of Country. Eggers and his partner Bitsy Crawford are aiming for the working man, diners under the radar of the $7 sandwiches becoming a staple downtown. And he says so far, the reaction suggests there's a market for it.

He says people have been are sticking their heads in the door several times a day, peering behind the butcher-papered windows to ask "when are you going to open?" and tell him they can't wait for Taste to return.

But Eggers is happy to welcome new faces to downtown. He says he hopes someday to start daily deliveries up the road to PPD.