The Bar at Castle Bay

03 Jul 2024

The Howell family breathes new life into a country club hangout 

By Judy Royal  »  Photos by G. Frank Hart

Sharis and John Howell were living in Fuquay Varina last November when their kids, then students at the UNCW, told them about the golf course at Castle Bay Country Club in Hampstead. As avid golfers and members of a country club at home for 20 years, the couple decided to check it out.

“We walked into an empty bar, an empty restaurant, without a soul around,” Sharis says. “It just looked like a missed opportunity to us.”

They soon found out the establishment had been largely abandoned for some time and needed someone to bring it back to life. In December, a month later, the Howells took over operations and made it a family affair with their children Kennedy and Jack, who both graduated from UNCW this year. The restaurant, which opened in 2004, had been called many things over the years, but most people referred to it as “the bar,” so the Howells decide to keep it simple and go with The Bar at Castle Bay, Sharis says.

“We were looking to relocate here eventually anyway,” she says. “We were always planning to retire in Wilmington. We still own several businesses in Raleigh and can manage them from afar, but we took the dive and moved down here and opened the restaurant.”

The family got to work replacing equipment, building a staff, developing a menu, and securing a liquor license. Sharis says she’d managed restaurants when she was younger, but otherwise the food-service industry was a new venture for the Howells. 

“We like a challenge,” she says. “We’re entrepreneurs. We’ve started and run and sold several businesses but never a restaurant. We wanted a challenge and we come from a country club atmosphere, so we know what it can be.”

They started with a simple menu of appetizers and sandwiches with one cook, but today have a full menu with 22 employees who keep The Bar open to the public seven days a week, including two cooks who each have decades of experience. They recently added breakfast service on Saturday and Sunday.

“We took this very slowly because we wanted to do it right and not make mistakes,” Sharis says. “We want to make it a fun environment with good food.”

Popular menu items include the Reuben sandwich, the Angus burger, and chicken wings with a choice of seven made-from-scratch sauces. The Bar offers catering as well as space for special events, and patrons can look for updates about live music, trivia nights, comedy shows, and other entertainment on The Bar’s Facebook page.

The Howells are active at the restaurant every day, with Kennedy and Jack regularly behind the bar and their parents typically handling management duties, which they are teaching to their children so they can eventually take over operations. The family is always talking to customers and asking for feedback, Sharis says.

“The community around here has just been amazingly supportive,” she adds. “They welcomed us, and we’re active in getting to know everybody. It’s humbling every day how much these people come in and tell us how much they love us and how great it is. It’s like an extended family almost.”

Castle Bay resident Roddy Butts said he visits The Bar several times per week and is happy to hear the laughter and other signs of life that were missing from the space for so long.

“These folks have been a godsend to this community,” he says. “They put out a good product, they have a good staff, and everybody is warm and friendly. They really just turned this place around.”

Polly Bates, who has lived in Castle Bay for almost 20 years, says she’s seen the restaurant turn over several times during that period. The Howells have given the community a much needed gathering place that has been lacking, she says.

“I think that they’re just very genuine, and they seem to welcome the business and knowing everybody’s names,” Bates says. “It seems like you’re walking into their backyard for a cookout.”

Now that the Howells have won over the neighborhood, they are now focusing on getting the word out that The Bar is open to the public, whether it’s golfers coming in from Wilmington looking to grab a bite before or after playing or those who live in the area wanting another option for a nice meal.

“We’re now starting to see this traffic of people saying they didn’t know this existed,” Sharis says. “There are not a lot of sit-down restaurants in Hampstead, but we’re here.”

107 Links Court

Hampstead, NC


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