Meeting William “Billy” Mellon is akin to peeking behind the tasseled, velvet curtain to discover the Wizard, the brilliance behind the magic that is Manna, Bourgie Nights and Earnest Money & Sons. With nearly 30 years’ experience in the restaurant and wine business, Mellon’s enthusiasm and passion for the industry has not waned – even despite the additional stresses of a global pandemic. His energy, drive and creativity have kept him going strong. And the giant “pause” in the normally bustling restaurant business during the past year allowed the owner-proprietor of Manna to contemplate and pursue more projects, including a weekly Wine Tasting Club via Zoom. Covid may have halted many things, but Mellon’s determination was not one of them.
Mellon, who originally hails from Corpus Christi, Texas made his way to the Wilmington, NC restaurant scene after a stint in the U.S. Army while stationed at Ft. Bragg followed by an educational pursuit at NC State in Raleigh/Durham. He relocated to Wrightsville Beach and eventually found his sweet spot in Wilmington, where he opened Manna, the first restaurant in Wilmington to earn the honor of AAA’s four-diamond rating - and continued the winning streak for six straight years. Manna’s heavenly menu offerings are an innovative take on American Cuisine.
When asked about where he draws inspiration as a restauranteur, the humble proprietor attributes his success to having worked for and with some of the best owners and chefs in the industry. His experience working with Port Land Grill’s Ann and Shawn Wellersdick especially influenced his concept of fine dining and food and wine pairings. Mellon is currently excited about and inspired by Manna’s Executive Chef, Carson Jewell, who previously worked at Death & Taxes in Raleigh, under the tutelage of James Beard Award Winner, Ashley Christenson. Jewell’s creations are extraordinarily flavorful, made with simple (and often local) ingredients, beautifully plated and a bit fun. With seasonal menu selection names like Soup Doggie Dog and Fred Flynn-Stone, how can one resist ordering?
For those with a sweet tooth, Manna is fortunate to have the mad sugar skills of Executive Pastry Chef, Rebeca Alverado-Paredes to put the finishing touch on a fine dining experience. And the high-end, sparkling atmosphere at 123 Princess Street is only elevated by the robust wine offerings and superbly crafted cocktails. Add the emphasis on providing excellent customer service with a dash of Southern hospitality and Mellon has created a recipe for success.
While discussing the strains of the last year, Mellon’s primary concerns were for the livelihoods of his staff, who he was forced to layoff in March 2020 due to Covid-19 closures of food and drink establishments. When restrictions finally lifted in late May 2020, Mellon decided to not rush re-opening Manna out of an abundance of precaution for his staff and guests and instead waited a couple weeks before getting the kitchen back up and running. Happily, the restaurant is once again taking reservations and serving up sustenance to its faithful customers.
As Covid-restrictions lift and life to returns to normalcy, Mellon is hoping to utilize Bourgie Nights (pronounced “BOO-ZHEE”), the event space and lounge located next-door to Manna, to once again feature live music, cocktail parties, and special events.
Just one block away at 211 Princess Street is Earnest Money & Sons, a dimly lit, sophisticated, and intimate venue that is described as “a quintessential private club for members and their guests: offering the ideal destination for social interactions, refreshing libations and a smidgen of tomfoolery.” Mellon’s intention with “E-Money,” as it is affectionally called, was to provide an intimate and charming gathering space where adults can enjoy uniquely and thoughtfully prepared cocktails, interesting wines, and regional beer selections. The staff here, just as at manna, are friendly, unpretentious, and accommodating. During a recent visit, my companions and I were welcomed and seated by E-Money’s ‘hospitality liaison.” Soon after, we were enjoying expertly crafted and beautifully presented artisanal cocktails. After our first round, our handsomely dressed libation artist, Fred, stopped by our table to assess our opinions of the martinis and bourbon drinks that we had ordered from the menu. All were pleased with their selections and decided to order a second round with Fred expertly customizing our cocktails based on our previous selections. Once again, we had winners across the board including my French 75 martini with a slightly more botanical twist.
Memberships to Earnest Money & Sons cost $24 per year. There are no formal vetting and approval procedures required for membership – one only needs to apply and pay the annual fee. Currently, reservations are required to maintain social distancing protocols.
As if these culinary and libations ventures were not enough to keep him busy, Mellon decided to rekindle his passion for wine tasting and food pairings by starting a weekly wine club last year. It was something that had been on his wish list, but he had not had the time to pursue. Covid-19 changed that. So, with the same gusto that he approaches his other pursuits, Mellon put together a list of guest hosts, wine selections (and even pairing suggestions) and a schedule and set to hosting a weekly Zoom call on Wednesday nights. Guests are invited to purchase the wine selections through Manna - Mellon takes care of that detail as well – but there is no cost to join in on the fun. Last week’s wine tasting featured award-winning restauranteur, master sommelier, cookbook author and Scarpetta Wine Company owner, Bobby Stuckey, and two of his Italian wines. It was a lively, entertaining, and informative Zoom event and the Friulano and Barbera wines were delicious selections according to this non-oenophile.
Hospitality is clearly in Billy Mellon’s blood. As is creativity, drive, determination, vision, community-mindedness, and a commitment to paying-it-forward. To get a peek behind the curtain of this Wilmington wizard, one only need visit Manna, Bourgie Nights or Earnest Money & Sons to find that thought, heart, and courage have been poured into each one.
For more information and reservations, visit www.mannaavenue.com and www.earnestmoneyandsons.com.
[Photographs of Billy Mellon and interior of Manna courtesy of Lighthouse Media. Photograph of Earnest Money & Sons courtesy of Colleen Keefe.]
Colleen Keefe is a freelance writer providing clients with digital marketing content that gains social media attention and increases search engine optimization. She especially enjoys writing about interesting places and inspiring people, as well as traveling, reading, gardening and photography. Colleen lives in Bucks County, PA.