In the days and hours leading up to Hurricane Florence, LM Restaurants, which owns and operates Oceanic, activated its storm preparedness teams to carry out hurricane prep protocols at the restaurant group’s properties throughout the Southeast.
The company relies heavily on those protocols when bad weather is on the horizon, and they are updated with each pending storm. While preparation for each storm varies, there are systems in place to help managers deal with food, beverage and equipment storage, as well as how to secure the interior and exterior of the buildings in advance of a storm.
That’s what happened last September as Florence made its approach toward Wilmington.
As part of the prep plans, it’s also imperative that the entire staff is aware of the chain of command and the procedures to follow in advance, during and after a storm, said Katherine Costa Goldfaden, director of brands for Raleigh-based LM Restaurants.
Oceanic has been a fixture on the Wrightsville Beach dining scene for nearly 30 years. Perhaps due to a major renovation to the building in 2012 and subsequent renovation of the Crystal Pier in 2015, Oceanic and the pier did not incur structural damages as a result of Florence. But the water damage was extensive, and the restaurant has remained closed since the storm while under construction.
LM officials hope to reopen soon but are taking their time in the rebuild to make some changes to the popular restaurant at the same time.
Oceanic wasn’t the only major Wrightsville Beach institution hit hard by the storm. Just down the beach, the Blockade Runner Beach Resort also closed, with a portion of the hotel reopening last month. South Beach Grill, in operation for 22 years on South Lumina Avenue, was shuttered for repairs until mid-February.
“This event allowed us to ask ourselves ‘What does the next chapter of Oceanic look like?’” said Amber Moshakos, president of LM Restaurants. “Florence gave us the opportunity to pause and reimagine what Oceanic could and should be for our team members and guests.”
A family-run business founded by Moshakos’ parents, Lou and Joy, LM took over Oceanic in 2008 when it acquired five local eateries from the Atlantic Quest Corp. The other restaurants acquired at that time were Bluewater and Henry’s – still in operation today – and Eddie Romanelli’s locations in Wilmington and Leland. The Wilmington location of Eddie Romanelli is now another LM concept, Hops Supply Co., while the Eddie Romanelli’s in Leland closed in 2016.
Today, LM Restaurants is a hospitality management company for seven brands and over two dozen restaurants across the Southeast. The company’s flagship brand, Carolina Ale House, now has 29 locations, including one in Wilmington. Three new brands are in development for 2019 in South Florida: Oceanic at Pompano Beach Pier and Lucky Fish Beach Bar and Grill, both in Pompano Beach, and Morea in Fort Lauderdale.
Locally, the only other LM restaurant to incur damages as a result of Florence, which made landfall near Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14, was Bluewater, which reopened in stages, beginning in early October.
Amber Moshakos said that after 10 years running Oceanic, the company now has an understanding of what it takes to operate the restaurant successfully, and officials wanted to take their time in determining how this unexpected remodel could help them gain operational efficiencies and improve diners’ experiences.
“If we weren’t exploring updating the space, we certainly would have been open by now,” Amber Moshakos said. “It has always been our philosophy to reinvest in the communities and buildings in which we do business, and we have a really strong commitment to this building. Like many families, we have created lots of special memories here.”
The building is near where Lumina Pavilion, a popular entertainment center in the early 1900s, once stood, and the restaurant was named after the Oceanic Hotel, which was destroyed in Wrightsville Beach’s massive 1934 fire.
When the restaurant reopens this spring, guests will find new, unobstructed views of the ocean as soon as they walk in the door, Amber Moshakos said. The main bar has been repositioned so the seats overlook the dunes and jetty. Private dining spaces on all three levels are being updated to allow for more flexibility in the types of events that can be accommodated, and the dining rooms will be outfitted with new flooring, paint, fixtures and furnishings.
While a reopening date has not yet been determined, the group is pushing for Easter Sunday, which is April 21, and expects to hire 150 employees for the summer season.
“This is a landmark restaurant with a wonderful history, and we want to make our friends and team members proud,” Goldfaden said. We know the updates and our increased ocean views will be proof of our commitment to our community.”