From the end of World War II through the mid-1970s, the Chic-Chic was one of the Port City’s favorite drive-in spots, ranking with the Mil-Jo, at 5213 Oleander Drive, Wilmington [Map this], and Carroll’s at 3031 Carolina Beach Road, Wilmington [Map this].
The Chic-Chic was located throughout its history at 1404 N. Fourth St., Wilmington [Map this], although most locals tended to think of it as on Castle Hayne Road, since it sat at the intersection.
An ad in the July 18, 1946, Morning Star announced “the new Chic Chic Grill,” located “just across the overpass.” Diners were promised “only the best fine foods,” including “STEAKS (as you like ’em”) and “CHOPS (Little Abner would love),” along with “SANDWICHES (all kinds & made to order),” beer, soft drinks and curb service.
The restaurant wasn’t listed in the Wilmington City Directory until 1952. James G. Merritt was the proprietor until 1953 when he leased the business to S. Thomas Rhodes, a former motorcycle officer with the Wilmington Police Department, and his wife Dorothy. The next year, the Rhodeses exercised their option to buy. Rhodes ran the night shift while his wife handled the day shift. (Their son, S. Thomas Rhodes Jr., was later a state senator for New Hanover County and a cabinet secretary under Gov. Jim Martin.)
Rhodes died of a heart attack in 1959. His widow ran the business herself for another year. Then, in 1961, she leased it to Crowell E. “Gene” Spivey, a veteran downtown restauranter whose Front Street business had been hard hit by the pull-out of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad..
The 1954 directory entry promised “Sandwiches of All Kinds, Sea Foods, Soft Drinks, Beer” and “Courteous, Efficient Service.” A vintage postcard included a menu offering plenty of fried chicken. Throughout the 1950s, hot dogs were 15 cents, while a hamburger with all the fixings went for 25 cents.
Ads were been rather haphazard about whether Chic-Chic was hyphenated or not (some years it was, some years it wasn’t), but one thing was rock-solid: No “K” in the name.
The Chic-Chic officially became a drive-in in 1961 when Spivey added awnings outside the building.
M.D. Batten, in her oral history for UNC Public Television, recalled cruising the Chic-Chic as a teenager in 1969; the place seemed to be crawling with off-duty Marines from Camp Lejeune, she said. All ages loved the restaurant though. Some old fans remember the waitresses were on roller skates, but Dorothy Rhodes MIller says it didn’t happen.
During the 1950s, the restaurant sponsored its own Little League baseball team.
Some sources claim that fans who frequented the Chic-Chic did not go to the Mil-Jo, and vice versa, atlhought Pat Wilkie, who patronized both, said many teens “cruised” between the two.
Despite its proximity to the Taylor Homes public housing complex built for blacks during segregation, the restaurant’s clientele remained all-white through the ’50s and’60s. The Chic-Chic was hit by arson durng the city’s 1971 riots. After that, according to Dorothy Rhodes Miller, who continued to own the property, business never really recovered.
The 1401 N. Fourth St. site was listed as “vacant” beginning in the 1977 City Directory.In the late 1980s, the building was home to Simpson’s Crab House.
Date posted: November 17, 2010
User-contributed question by:
Tina Rhodes Perry