Joule won’t be the only Wilmington Street mainstay closing at the start of the new year.
After nearly eight years, the Busy Bee Cafe—a beer bar and comfort food spot that took a chance on a rather empty strip in 2009—will close after a New Year’s Day brunch, as will its upstairs Belgian beer hideaway, Mash & Lauter.
Following a two-week pause for construction, the two levels will reopen as one, with a new theme and name: Trophy Chicken & Taproom.
“Next year, we were going to turn eight, so we started thinking about how Busy Bee should look going forward,” says Chris Powers, one of Busy Bee’s founders. “When we opened up the Busy Bee, we were here all the time and could manage all these moving parts—a constantly rotating menu, a constantly rotating draft list. But it’s hard, when we’re not here, to manage it.”
Powers and co-founder Woody Lockwood aren’t there all the time anymore because they now run three other businesses—State of Beer and the dual namesake breweries of the Busy Bee space’s next phase, Trophy Brewing Company.
Trophy, of course, is the growing beer company co-owned by Busy Bee’s trio of founders and brewer and partner Les Stewart. In the past two years, Trophy has grown tremendously, expanding beyond its tiny brewery and taproom on Morgan Street to open an enormous production facility and second bar on Maywood Avenue late last year.
Next week, they’ll install a full canning line, which will allow them to begin ramping up a wider distribution network. In order to focus more on that business, Powers and Lockwood will streamline the systems of what was Busy Bee.
Rather than maintain a massive roster of beers from all over the world, they’ll mostly serve Trophy, accompanied by the beers of some of their favorite other breweries. And rather than skate the globe as the Busy Bee did with its menu, they’ll offer only rotisserie chickens, tacos, and sides that complement both. (Yes, that means no tater-tots.) The move should enable Lockwood and Powers to set up a system and leave it alone.
“We don’t want to work with too many moving parts. We want to focus on Trophy, because that is a brand that is growing. And it’s our brand,” says Lockwood. “We’re not trying to take over the world with it, but we’ve grown a bit. And we have the beer to support it now.”
This is the second new-year change for the space in as many years. For the better part of a decade, the space upstairs was The Hive, a mellow bar on weeknights and a buzzing dance club during the weekend. But in early 2016, Powers and Lockwood rebranded it as Mash & Lauter, a sort of quiet beer study. The limitations of that niche concept also contributed to this next move.
“It’s been better on the weekdays than The Hive was, but we lost out on those weekend sales,” admits Lockwood. “But we don’t want to go back to that.”
Powers and Lockwood will use the January pause to overhaul the building’s infrastructure. Upstairs and downstairs have always operated on separate draft systems, but they will rip out all of those old innards and replace them with new lines that run throughout the building. Not only will they last longer, but they’ll run more cleanly too, Powers says, resulting in better-tasting beer. They’ll replace all of the furniture, too, and adjust the restaurant’s layout.
Perhaps best of all about the makeover? Trophy Chicken & Taproom will focus at least in part on takeout for both food and beer, a resource downtown Raleigh lacks.
“If you call in and say, ‘I’ll take a chicken and a six-pack,’ we’ll have it behind the bar for you, ready to go,” says Powers. “We think people will like that.”