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As more residents look to live and work in downtown Wilson, businesses are popping up, including the aptly named “Carb Corner” developing at the intersection of Douglas and Barnes streets.
Kasia Hunter-Parker has been a home-based baker since 2011, but last year she started looking into taking her eggs and flour into a brick and mortar space. Early this year, the opportunity presented itself in the building where the popular Shealy’s Bakery operated for years.
“I feel like I have some humongous shoes to fill, but I also feel like I have and will continue to bridge gaps with my treats,” Hunter-Parker said.
MISE EN PLACE
The 43-year-old baker has operated her business as Confections of a Diva, but she plans to add fresh produce smoothies and cold-pressed juices under the name Balance Bakery & Juice Cafe. In the same building, an entrepreneur plans to operate a restaurant and taproom.
“It is not the first rodeo for the guy putting in the taproom,” said property owner Rhine Sharp, who declined to disclose the restaurateur’s name. “He has multiple locations and has been extremely, extremely successful in everything he has done, so I don’t have any worries about him.”
Next door, two sisters plan to open Pie Station with brick oven pizza and cocktails.
“We own the property facing Douglas Street; the plans are drawn, and we are looking forward to being part of Carb Corner,” Pie Station co-owner Carol Bowen said. “We remain committed and will overcome all the obstacles when presented. Therefore, it is impossible to predict an opening date.”
Previously, Bowen and her sister had planned to open the pizzeria in an old gas station the city of Wilson now owns. Plans changed, so now city staff members are working to find a new eatery for the Goldsboro Street building.
“We’re figuring out what the market gaps are by listening and weighing feedback,” said Kellianne Davis, downtown business specialist. “I often hear, ‘I want this’ or ‘I want that,’ but when I start to hear one thing over and over, that is when it gets some traction, and I try to run those types of businesses down.
“It is not just what is not here, but what is not here for whom. For example, Bill’s Grill and Isahana are not white-tablecloth restaurants, but they are fast and convenient, which check boxes for commuters, downtown employees and those wanting grab-and-go options. Because we have things that address those needs, the next business might be a white-tablecloth restaurant.”
Downtown Marketing and Communications Coordinator Susan Kellum said adding niche restaurants before the cornerstones often contributes to business turnover in downtown. Adding residents to the area through Whirligig Station and other developments along with the sizable number of folks who work downtown will provide a solid customer base.
“Any healthy downtown has a strong number of people who live there in addition to those who make a conscious effort to go downtown as a destination,” said Davis. “Having downtown restaurants allows for people to have a greater window of opportunity to take part in all that is happening and builds the level of activity outside of the 9-to-5 work hours to 24/7.”
Mazin Saleh remembers working for Worrell’s during college when the Goldsboro Street restaurant was a popular destination among seafood lovers.
“That place used to bring a lot of people downtown,” Saleh said. “When there was really nothing around and downtown development wasn’t a focus, people would come to Worrell’s Seafood from all over.”
Since the doors shut in 2015, Saleh has taken the mammoth property down to the studs in hopes of rebuilding it for a new generation.
“The restaurant was old and had some real structural issues,” he said. “This renovation is not about putting a bandage on it. We’re going all the way inside out, from top to bottom and everything in between. That corner is the prime location in downtown, and it has to stand out. I want to do it right or not at all.”
As such, he has installed all new steel beams, concrete footings and floor joists and regraded the basement. Now he plans to chop it into three storefronts and upfit the space for new business.
Saleh’s work isn’t the only upfitting going on in that area. Asif Daher, who owns Bateeni Mediterranean Grill & Cafe in Greenville, has been working on opening a second location in Whirligig Station with Waukeshaw Development.
“Bateeni has been working on developing their plans,” said Emily Sanfratella, Waukeshaw’s chief operating officer. “We’re awaiting the final design plans from them, and we’re hoping to get it opened by the end of the summer.”
New York native Saleh said projects like Whirligig Station and BB&T’s new office inspire confidence in downtown development.
“It is a ripple effect with one building getting fixed and another investor getting to work,” he said. “Before you know it, the whole area is developed and everyone wants to be a part of it. It is like a snowball: once it gets going, there is no stopping it.”
ICING ON THE CAKE
Hunter-Parker said the idea of a storefront has been in the back of her mind for years, but only recently did circumstances start to fall into place.
“What has really brought me to this decision is that I feel like designing cakes is my gift from God, and I want to do it full time,” she said. “This is something I love, and I can’t continue to work 9-to-5, then bake and decorate two or three nights a week, sometimes staying up all night. I feel like I have to move forward and use the gift God has given me.”
She said downtown Wilson’s lower overhead is helpful, especially for a new business.
“I want to be the reason you come downtown, but it helps when there are a multitude of things downtown for people to see,” Hunter-Parker said. “I think Wilson’s downtown is transitioning to be something really happening. I think downtowns, especially small downtowns, are becoming the big thing again.”
The Enfield native said what makes her confections different is the care she puts into making each one unique to the recipient. She looks forward to combining her recipes with those from her grandmother and others inspired by Marie Shealy and her family. She plans to put her own spin on Shealy’s popular cherry nut bars, chocolate drops, pineapple drops, petit fours and brownies.
“I want people to have the nostalgia for the old tastes they may have encountered long ago and the excitement of things they might have tried before such as the strawberry and blueberry crunch pudding cups and the cake-cicles or cookie twists,” she said.
Balance Bakery & Juice Cafe is set to open this fall with hours six days a week.
“I love the thought of being in a downtown with the hustle and bustle,” Hunter-Parker concluded.
Saleh said he’s thrilled to see life coming back to the heart of Wilson.
“At one point, downtown was for the elite, and then it tumbled,” he said. “The recession hit and now it is really coming back. I don’t think it will go anywhere but up. It is just going to keep getting better.”
This is the third installment in a series about the revitalization of historic downtown Wilson. The Wilson Times will publish a story every Monday in July about retail, restaurants and residential opportunities in the city center. Follow reporter @BrieHandgraaf and #DowntownTurnaround on Twitter for snapshots of various people, places and events in downtown.