The End of an Era – Kelly’s Restaurant

Sometime near the end of November, Kelly’s Outer Banks Tavern in Nags Head will shutter its doors for the last time. There have been other places that have closed over the years that are iconic Outer Banks institutions, but the news that Mike Kelly will be closing his signature restaurant feels like the end of an era.

Maybe it is. Maybe the difference is that from the time he took over J. Fleming Munde’s from John Lancaster and Paul Shaver in 1985 and renamed the business, Mike Kelly has gone out of his way to integrate the restaurant into Outer Banks life.

From the outset, Mike Kelly seemed to understand that a truly successful business has to be fully integrated into the life of a community. And to that end, he made his tavern available to a long list of Outer Banks causes.

If the Dare County Arts Council needed a place for an event, Kelly’s was available; when the Womanless Beauty Pageant that raises funds for a number of causes needed to grow, Kelly’s was there; GEM Adult Day Services, a local organization that works with individuals and families enduring dementia, needed a home for its annual Carpe DM Dance Marathon, and Kelly’s provided the space.

It is a space that seems to always be the right size for whatever is happening.

The tavern area was enlarged around 20 years ago, and was one of the largest bar and nightclub venues on the Outer Banks. It was a great place for music. The ambiance of the bar combined with a large dance floor and a balcony made events there something special

It certainly wasn’t all altruism, although anyone who knows Mike understands that he has love for the Outer Banks community. As a business model, what he did was tremendously successful. He did other things right as well.

The food in the restaurant was good. Over the years, Mike has been able to attract a number of very talented executive chefs, including Carolina Designs’ neighbor Wes Stepp who owns Red Sky Cafe. His wine list has won awards, and the service was invariably pleasant and professional.

The bar was comfortable and a great place to meet friends, although in the summer and often on weekends, it could get pretty crowded, and quite a number of longterm encounters have had their beginnings there.

Will someone step in to fill the void? Of course someone will. Aubrey Davis and Eric Reece at the Brewing Station are well on their way to carrying out many of the community roles Mike had in the past. And—as he has stressed in a number of interviews, he’s not closing up shop and moving away. Pamlico Jack’s, his Nags Head restaurant with its spectacular view of Roanoke Sound will still be open, as well as Mako Mike’s in Kill Devil Hills. The catering service will also still be active—good news for his sweet potato biscuit addicts.

But that signature piece of Outer Banks life will be closing—the property sold to Lidl, a German-based discount grocery store.

In talking to him, Mike has stressed it is not something he had to do, rather that it seemed like the right time, although the decision, he has said, was bittersweet.