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Rundown Café makes transition from Caribbean to coastal

The Rundown Café, located at milepost 1.5 on the beach road in Kitty Hawk, has undergone some big changes since its conception in 1993. Starting out as a Jamaican-themed hangout joint, the restaurant then moved to a California/Asian-influenced hub for bright, bold cuisine and is now taking a new path down a coastal road.

Walt and Beth Kindelberger purchased the restaurant from former owner Michael Montiel in August of 2019. Montiel had taken over Rundown from the original owners, who based the concept for Rundown after their other Outer Banks restaurant, Tortuga’s Lie.

“The original logo was three little men holding the sign and then the Rasta man running around,” Walt said. “It was very that vibe.” Montiel was a traveler, surfer and all-around laid-back guy with an eye for good cuisine. After spending the winter months along the west coast and in the Pacific rim islands, Montiel started to fall in love with the Asian-inspired food over there.

“He brought in the Hawaiian poke, noodle bowls and the Asian sesame,” Walt said. For years, the restaurant had Montiel’s surfboards hanging on the wall around the bar upstairs and stuck with the Caribbean style mixed with west coast theme up until it closed for the season after Thanksgiving last year.

The Kindelbergers were thrilled when they found Rundown on the list of properties for sale while looking last summer. “It’s always been a dream to own a restaurant,” Beth said. Beth and Walt are from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where they raised their two daughters, Genna and Aly.

Beth said she had been vacationing in the Outer Banks since the 1970s. “Ever since I was seven years old,” she said. Walt started coming about 25 years ago. After working as a sales manager for a large frozen food company and sending one daughter to college and the other one not far behind, Walt said 2019 was the right year to start looking to purchase a business of their own.

“That was the time that we could start thinking about something like this,” Walt started, “but we didn’t know when we started looking last summer that it would happen that quickly.” Walt said the couple had been looking into four different properties that were on the market at the time, but Montiel’s restaurant “just felt like the right place.”

After purchasing the restaurant in August, Walt and Beth decided it was time to build on the transitions that the restaurant has been through before. “We felt like it’s moved far enough from Tortuga’s now that to go back there is not where we want to go.” Walt said.

Walt said Rundown will be slowly moving away from the Caribbean feel and more towards a “coastal” theme. The menu will include items that satisfy a fisherman’s dinner along with some of the classics, like their famous fried chicken.

Rundown has won the “Best of the Beach” award for their fried chicken three years in a row. Michael’s Monday chicken will still be served on special Monday nights in the spring and fall, and noodle bowls, Cali burgers and tropical cocktails will remain part of Rundown’s menu.

To help the restaurant make this new transition, Beth and Walt enlisted the help of local artist Harry Meraklis to paint murals of the main Rundown mascot: an octopus. “The octopus was something Michael had been talking about already,” Walt said. Now holding up the outdoor sign and swimming along the walls inside the restaurant, Meraklis’s octopus has found its new home in Rundown.

The original artwork of Meraklis adorns the walls in the downstairs portion of Rundown, and the work of Marcia Cline now resides in the upstairs bar. “Everything you see in here is original,” Walt said. The Kindelbergers really wanted to keep with the local art theme while transitioning.

Since purchasing Rundown, Walt said the biggest struggle they have had to overcome is how tight labor is. “Michael had kind of warned us,” Walt said. “We didn’t understand the depth of the situation,” Beth admitted. Luckily, nearly all of Rundown’s staff is returning for another season.

Bar and server help are filled up, but Walt said they will always be looking for more help in the kitchen. “In the kitchen you always want depth; the kitchen is what makes it all happen,” Walt said.

Despite some minor hurdles, Beth and Walt are excited for what the 2020 season of the Rundown Café will bring. The restaurant opened for the season on March 1 and will be open Thursdays through Mondays until the summer rolls around when it will be open seven days a week.

Rundown will host live music on the upstairs deck from 6 to 9 p.m. on the weekends in season.  For more information, visit www.rundowncafe.com.

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