Good Friends, Good Times

by May 20, 2024Food & Drink, Partners, Southport Oak Island

With grab-and-go bites, gelato, coffee, local beers, Italian wines and gathering spaces, Haven of Southport is a welcome addition to the Southport social scene.

When partners David Truglio and Bev Hammond bought the building at 307 N. Howe Street in Southport with plans to open a business, they truly did not know what type of business it would be.

“We wanted a place that would be like Cheers,” Hammond says, referencing the popular 1980s sitcom. “Someplace comfortable and welcoming. A place where you could make new friends.”

An establishment that honored Truglio’s Italian heritage seemed like a clever idea and something that was inviting, relaxing and respectful of the city’s small-town feel. A place where people could congregate and enjoy each other’s company. A haven of sorts.

Haven! Yes, that was it. They had a name. Now they needed a business model that fit their vision and honored the name.

Haven of Southport

A few years earlier they toyed with the idea of selling pizza slices down by the waterfront, trying to fill a void of grab-and-go meals in that part of town. It did not work out. They considered ice cream but found that it was difficult to make and there were already some establishments nearby that either specialized in or offered it. They preferred something not yet found in the community, something distinctive.

Then one day Truglio, who previously owned a frozen yogurt shop in Connecticut, Googled “gelato” and discovered there was a supplier in Wilmington — and not just any supplier. This supplier imports gelato only from GelaRto, a family-owned company located in the Italian Alps of Turin, Italy. That certainly fit with their vision of honoring Truglio’s heritage. Better yet, the owner of the Wilmington franchise knew of a gelato store in New Jersey that was closing and looking to sell its equipment at a reduced rate.

Hammond and Truglio made the purchase, rented an Enterprise truck, and headed to New Jersey to retrieve the equipment. Along the way they found and purchased many other items like tables, chairs and chalkboards from other establishments that were closing post-COVID. Everything was falling into place.

But the pair did not think selling gelato was enough. They still believed the town needed a grab-and-go meal option for boaters, vacationers and those who worked in downtown’s other retail establishments.

For customers planning to stay for a while, offering adult beverages also seemed like a promising idea.

Cocktail Haven of Southport

Hammond and Truglio say their strategy was to offer something completely different in Southport. They say they wanted to stand out and create a space that was distinctive.

They decided to add wine to their offerings and, sticking with the Italian theme, opted to sell only wines from bel paese Italia (the beautiful country of Italy).

Bottles featuring a wide variety of grapes line the entire left wall when you enter the store, and customers often pop the corks and enjoy the vino right at the store. The red and white wines they offer on tap are also Italian, as is the prosecco.

Haven of Southport Wine selection

If you want a coffee instead, you’ll get LavAzza, produced by another family-owned business based in Turin, Italy. And to satisfy the need for grab-and-go items, they settled on grinders, a.k.a. subs, and charcuterie, which they make daily. Both are perfect for boaters and beachgoers to pick up for take-out or for on-site diners to enjoy on the patio with a beverage.

Some of the few items available that are not Italian are instead produced in North Carolina. The impressive number of craft beers available for purchase all hail from local, N.C. and S.C. breweries. The chips that people buy to accompany their grinders are also made in the state. Available too are freshly baked cookies and bars, locally made cake slices, packaged Italian cookies, crackers and more.

Haven offers an array of flights, including beer, wine and gelato. One new addition is the very popular Prosecco float flight. They also do pop-ups for specialty and seasonal items.

Wine tastings are held on Tuesdays, beer tastings are on Fridays, and they have live music every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday year round.

About six months into the business, they diversified the menu by adding flatbreads on nights they have live music playing on their back patio (a unique space built by a local craftsman using granite fragments) and when there are concerts in nearby Franklin Square Park. In addition to ample seating, the patio features a bocce court — yet another nod to Italy — and two cornhole areas.

The patio helps Truglio and Hammond with their dream of creating a community meeting place, and so does the sizeable farm table that graces the interior of the building. Not only do friends and neighbors gather for gelato and gab, but Haven has also become a hangout for a variety of clubs and groups. This past fall, the facility hosted a wedding party. They also host craft classes, special pairing events and more; all are posted on their Facebook page. They even rent the space for events and can provide the music, food and other elements as requested.

“We have a wonderful cross-section of people who come here,” Truglio says, as Hammond agrees. “We are truly grateful that the community has embraced us. Even families gravitate here, with the kids eating gelato and the adults enjoying a glass of wine or a beer.”

Haven’s owners have also been impressed with how supportive other area businesses have been. Customers have told the pair that they were directed to Haven after enjoying a meal at an area restaurant.

“Most of the businesses in town are very supportive of each other,” Hammond says. “We want to be good neighbors as well.”

Good neighbors in a quaint seaside town where everybody knows your name. As the back of the Haven business card states, “Brindsi ai grandi amici a bei tempi nel nostro paradiso” — Here’s to great friends and good times in our paradise.

Cheers to that!

Haven of Southport Gelato

Is ice cream better than gelato or vice versa? Here is the difference between the two; you be the judge.

Ice Cream: Made with cream, which is high in dairy fat (at least 10%, per USDA regulations, but typically 15%-25%)
Includes egg yolks
Dairy fat, because it has a strong taste, tends to mask other flavors
Smooth, silky texture
Can contain as much as 50% air

Gelato: Made with milk, not cream, so lower in fat (5 to 7%) and requires less sugar to fight through in the flavor
Eggs not used
More intense flavors from fruits and other natural ingredients
Crystaline texture
Denser than ice cream because only about 25% air

Haven of Southport
307 N. Howe Street, Southport

Photography by Matt McGraw