Lost Colony Tavern celebrates a year of bringing flavors of the British Isles to Manteo

Published 7:48 am Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Lost Colony Tavern business partners and best friends Geno Seay and Jared Sadler are raising a pint to celebrate not only the new year, but also a successful first year in business.

The downtown Manteo restaurant changed owners and names in January 2022. The space was formerly Full Moon Café, owned by husband-wife team Paul Charron and Sharon Enoch. When Charron started crafting his own beer, he added a brewery to the café.

“I came into the picture around 2015 when I moved to Roanoke Island,” Seay said, who relocated from Virginia Beach to the Outer Banks for a job in restaurant management. “This brewery kind of became one of the linchpins for me moving here. I fell in love with the town because of the brewery.”

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Seay was an early supporter of Lost Colony Brewery, which fostered a strong relationship between him, Charron and Enoch. When he started at Barefoot Bernie’s he quickly added Lost Colony beers to the tap. He also did weekly “tap takeovers”—which is when a brewery comes in takes over all a restaurant’s draft beer lines for an event.

Then, in the summer of 2021, “Paul and Sharon approached me and asked if I was interested in purchasing the restaurant portion. They just wanted to retire to their little brewery. So they said look, you’ve got the background, the resume, the know-how to do it.”

Seay reached out to his best friend Sadler to see if he wanted to go in together on the venture.

“We have a very strong business relationship in the sense that we both know where we stand. And the first rule of business is never going to business with a friend!” Seay said. “We knew that going in – we knew that our friendship was stronger.”

“It’s actually in our operating agreement that if [the restaurant] compromises our friendship, that will throw the business away and walk away,” Sadler said.

The two met at a beer run at a 7-11 and quickly discovered their shared enjoyment of not only beer, but international travel. They’ve taken a trip or two per year since 2017 and have visited Copenhagen, Jamaica, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Argentina and Germany. When the friends started making plans for the restaurant, they took the first of several journeys over to the United Kingdom to explore the food and culture of the four countries – England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

“We decided we wanted to honor the history of Roanoke Island by establishing a British tavern in the heart of downtown Manteo. We asked ourselves this – what would the Roanoke Colony be doing on the site in 2022 had they not become lost? We believe that they would be continuing to produce the traditional comfort foods of their homeland of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but with fresh local ingredients. So that’s exactly what we decided to do,” Seay said.

Along with a new menu, they gave the restaurant a new name – Lost Colony Tavern. They’re not associated with Lost Colony Brewery aside from serving their products, and the restaurant does not brew beer at all.

A tavern, Seay said, is by definition a place where people can go to congregate, talk, drink alcoholic beverages and enjoy grilled and roasted meats.

“We wanted to take a British town, pick it up right out of the British Isles and set it down in the heart of Manteo. So when you cross that threshold, you are no longer on the Outer Banks, you’re in British town,” he said.

The café feeling is long gone. The Lost Colony Tavern is full-bodied and cozy, with a broad wooden bar, brick and stone interior, and reminders of British culture like red phonebooth-faced bathrooms, “mind the gap” signs and even caddies of Colman’s mustard and HP Sauce on the tables.

“We wanted it to feel different the second you walk in the door. Most people understand what we’re trying to do,” Seay said.

“We have so many visitors to this island that come for the history. Whereas the beach over there – Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk – they’re kind of attracting your people who want to sit on the beach all day and hit the golf courses. Roanoke Island attracts the people who want to visit the history of the original settlement, which is really the birthplace of America, so we wanted to add to that experience including The Elizabethan Gardens and The Lost Colony play and Festival Park,” Seay said.

The experience extends far beyond the décor. The menu of the tavern was carefully designed by Seay and Sadler to reflect not only the foods of the British Isles, but the owners’ commitment to quality and creativity.

“Why are we stuck on chickens, pigs, and cows? It’s all we eat. There’s a lot of other meats. So we do a little bit of wild boar, elk, bison and buffalo,” (which, as it turns out, is different from bison) said Seay. Among the many offerings, the restaurant serves a Welsh lamb burger, a Scottish game burger with a rotating selection of exotic meats, and an English breakfast burger which features a Wagyu beef patty topped with bacon, sausage, a fried egg, sautéed mushrooms, roasted tomato, arugula and bacon aioli.

“We are trying to bring different flavors, bring the unexpected flavors,” Sadler said, who helps to create the various dishes and flavor combinations that the restaurant offers.

“I was always pulling at my mom’s hip in the kitchen when I was a kid. And then it was just one of the things that stuck for me, you know? I like being in the kitchen. I cook every day at home. I like to come up with wild and crazy stuff and every once in a while it doesn’t work. But I’m on a pretty good streak lately … So now, when we need a sauce, I’m like, I got this,” Sadler said.

“Well, honestly, Geno’s probably more of the creative ideas for this stuff. And then I do most of the executing and then we’ll bounce off each other from there,” he added. The friends work well together, each bringing different strengths to the business.

But they are aligned in one of their menu favorites – the Scotch egg. It’s a soft-boiled egg wrapped in Cheshire sausage and breadcrumbs and deep fried, then served over a bed of house made pepper jelly and topped with crumbled bacon. “And then you split it down the middle and open it and it comes out and the egg is still soft. It’s warm on the inside and the sausage is cooked on the outside. It’s excellent. Everyone that comes in and gets one, they come back. Everyone,” Seay said.

And Guinness stew – made with slow roasted beef and hearty vegetables simmering in the famous Irish stout – keeps customers coming back for more.

Tavern specialties include bangers and mash (sausages and potatoes), bubble and squeak (which is “a medley of fresh seasonal vegetables, pan-fried until it ‘bubbles and squeaks,’ topped with a Cheshire county ham and gently fried egg”) and Pamlico crab cakes, which are chock full of tender crabmeat and just a dash of Duke’s mayonnaise, crushed Ritz crackers and Old Bay seasoning.

The owners are dead-serious about local seafood. “We will lock the doors and sell this place before we sell seafood that’s not from the four sounds surrounding Roanoke Island,” Seay said.

They work with local fish markets to bring in the freshest and most local fish available “so whatever’s fresh off the boat is what we’re selling that day,” he added.

Locally sourced seafood is just one of the ways Lost Colony Tavern supports their community.

Unlike many Outer Banks restaurants, the tavern is committed to being open year-round. Winter hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon – 7 p.m. (closed Monday and Tuesday). Beginning March 1, they’ll resume normal hours, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., seven days a week.

“The stupidest business decision in the world is having a restaurant in the Outer Banks and being open all year for lunch and dinner. Terrible business,” the owners agreed.

“Right now,” Seay said, scanning the mostly empty restaurant, “we’ve got three people at the bar and we’re sitting here and I’ve got kitchen employees, got front house employees, were paying a lot of people. Are we bringing in as much? We’re definitely not.” This is in stark contrast to the two-hour wait list that the restaurant has most days during the summer.

“However, we believe that you can’t take from your people – take their blood, sweat and tears when the getting’s good and then leave them high and dry. We can’t do that. So, we’ll try to make sure people stay employed. I mean, there’s holes in my pockets right now, but here’s the thing – our staff, our cooks, you know, all of our people, their mortgage is still due every month, whether it’s on season or off-season. Mortgages don’t care. Car payments don’t care. Dominion Power doesn’t care. So we have to keep people employed. So we’re doing what we can to make sure that happens.”

They also offered an employee appreciation visit to Busch Gardens and an employee incentive promotion over the summer with the winner receiving a free trip to Ireland.

Lost Colony Tavern is also keeping a lively annual schedule, particularly in the off-season, for their local customers. “In the summer months, Memorial Day to Labor Day, we’re boring old Lost Colony Tavern. Once Labor Day hits, we move into Oktoberfest season,” Seay said.

Employees dressed up and the restaurant offered special food and drinks for Oktoberfest, followed by events for Halloween, Christmas, Carnivale and a month-long St. Patrick’s Day celebration (because “it’s too much fun for one day”).

“We are very committed to making sure that we have fun things for locals to do in the offseason. A lot of people don’t go out to restaurants during peak season, so now it’s their time to come out,” the owners agreed.

Current specials include happy hour deals every day from 4 – 8 p.m. featuring $6 munchies and $4 quenchers, along with three weekly deals: Wing Wednesdays (10 wings for $7.50), “YOUR Burger” Thursdays (build your own customer burger for $15), and Fish Fry Fridays (local fish, local shrimp, and local oysters with fries, slaw and sauce for $20).

As the Lost Colony Tavern enters 2023, Seay and Sadler reflect on a successful year in business together. “We wanted to do something that was fun, unexpected, and delicious, and I think we hit all three of those points.”