It’s a long story, according to Don Carmen, whose parents — Charles Donald Carmen and Margaret “Peggy” Carmen — operated the long-running restaurant.
The elder Carmen had been an Army cook in World War II, while Mrs. Carmen came with a number of traditional family recipes, including Carmen’s distinctive marinara sauce. In the late 1940s, they opened The Dude Ranch, a small restaurant in a small concrete-block building near Monkey Junction. (Alford’s Seafood later occupied the building, which it expanded considerably.)
According to Don Carmen, The Dude Ranch was probably the first establishment to serve Italian cuisine — in particular, pizza — in New Hanover County.
From 1953 to 1958, Carmen’s Italian-American Restaurant operated at 3714 Oleander Drive, in conjunction with the Air Park, a private airfield that used to be located in the vicinity of Lincoln Forest and Independence Mall.
Carmen’s then moved farther out on Oleander Drive, to a location right next to Flip’s Barbecue, where it thrived from 1958 to 1968. It had a big following with the high school crowd. “That was the best Italian food in Wilmington — and maybe the world — in the ’50’s,” wrote one satisfied customer who was a New Hanover High School classmate of the younger Carmen.
Don Carmen remembers that his parents’ restaurant was a frequent stop on prom nights back in the day.
Date posted: March 21, 2012