Lost Paddle Tavern set to open Tuesday

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 3/9/21

Lost Paddle Tavern opens to the public on Tuesday, March 9, and ties together Cape Fear River attractions with a new updated menu focused less on typical family dining and more on simpler foods mixed with craft beer from local vendors.

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Lost Paddle Tavern set to open Tuesday

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LILLINGTON — Melissa Smith’s persistence paid off.

When Mermaid Point’s owner decided to shut down the restaurant on the Cape Fear River at the end of 2019, Smith believed the location and natural landscape were simply too good to keep the place shuttered forever. As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed in 2020, and restaurants closed to indoor dining, the decision to close seemed to come at the perfect time.

The success Cape Fear River Adventures experienced nearby during the pandemic, however, reaffirmed Smith’s belief that a rebrand could be just what the restaurant needed. With the vaccine now readily available and spring on the horizon, Smith, who once worked at CFRA, feels more confident than ever that the new Lost Paddle Tavern, located at 100 S. Main St., is the final piece of an outdoor entertainment puzzle.

“I’ve been working on [the owner] for the past year and a half that we need to open this back up,” Smith said. “It’s perfect. With COVID, it didn’t seem like a great idea, but finally last fall I was able to talk him into it.”

Smith’s expectations for the site centered around providing visitors with an experience that could be as simple as sitting down for a meal or taking an excursion down the river on a multi-day adventure. Lost Paddle Tavern opens to the public on Tuesday, March 9, and ties together Cape Fear River attractions with a new updated menu focused less on typical family dining and more on simpler foods mixed with craft beer from local vendors. The COVID-19 pandemic offered some valuable lessons on finding ways to adapt, and Smith said she is ready to put her plan in place. 

“I love a good challenge,” said Smith. “We’re just kind of coming up with a fresh new concept. We still have COVID, but we have outdoor seating, drive-thru, we’re planning on doing curbside to-go, we’re going to set it all up with contact-less pay and stuff like that. We’re going to be a doing a more casual, fresh, clean menu that’s not like a sit down after church type deal. You certainly can do that, but that wasn’t something you could just pop in and eat and maybe sit on the grass by the river. We’re trying to cater it to outdoors.”

CFRA often attracts hundreds of visitors in the summertime, providing the restaurant with a built-in clientele. Smith said the pandemic forced businesses to either adapt or die, and she feels people will enjoy the new formula of a one-stop experience.

“COVID has really drawn a line,” Smith said. “Gathering people by the river is just an awesome spot. There are challenges with COVID but I think we’re set up really well here to deal with that and to have a lot of great things in place to make it successful, even with COVID. Even without all that other stuff, you can’t go wrong with that view.”

Owner Ilia Smirnov eventually got onboard with Smith’s proposal and is ready to offer the community an experience unlike any other.

“We’ve been working together on this concept over the last half year or so,” said Smirnov. “It’s going to be great. COVID is temporary, we’re here forever. We know people will be eager to get outdoors, whether it’s eating or recreation. We’re excited that people are going to be excited to see us and we’re going to be ready to give them some good service and some good food.”

No one knows how quickly the public will return to a sense of normalcy, but Smith is optimistic, especially after seeing how people turned out for the river adventure last year when most indoor activities closed down.

“Last year was huge for the river business and I anticipate it being even stronger this year for everything that has an outdoor caveat to it,” Smith said. “Even people who were petrified about being around other people came out and got on the river. People have been couped all winter and there are still so many things that are not options to do. People aren’t really comfortable dining in at certain places, and we have a big patio here. We offer different ways people can get out and still have those experiences and feel safe about it.”   

COVID-19 hasn’t completely hit the road quite yet, and ensuring people feel comfortable remains a top priority for Smith.      

“We still plan to make people feel safe and we want to provide them a place where they can do what they normally did, and that’s hangout and listen to music and eat and spend some time together,” said Smith. “North Carolina has beautiful weather generally and this is the perfect environment for it. There have been businesses that have adapted and really flourished, and a lot of them have really suffered. I think we have a really good angle to fit into accommodating people.”

The tavern also plans to offer various sporting goods equipment for sale that is appropriate for the locale such as cycling, kayaking and other outdoor activities.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or 910-230-2038.

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