MOREHEAD CITY — With Thanksgiving coming up Thursday, Carteret County is gearing up for the holiday centered around good food and company.
The kitchen of the Friendly Market in Morehead City was bustling with activity Friday as employees began prepping for the holiday feast, which customers could preorder through about mid-November. The Friendly Market co-owner Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick said her kitchen staff was getting ahead on some prep work so they could charge full steam ahead on cooking beginning early this week.
“Every year this has grown,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said of the market’s Thanksgiving offerings. “Right now, the cool thing is the efficiency of the kitchen. A lot of what we’re doing right now is stuff we can do ahead of time before we actually start making the foods. Everything that we need to actually cook we’ll start Monday, so we’ll have it ready and fresh for most people to pick up Wednesday.”
The market expanded earlier this year, so this is the first Thanksgiving they’ve been able to use their larger, updated kitchen.
Ms. Fitzpatrick said the Friendly Market is making enough food to feed around 1,400 people this year, the most it’s ever prepared. That includes more than 100 Thanksgiving feasts, designed to feed 10-12 people, and an additional 150 dinners for two. The menu includes roasted turkey and house relish, yeast rolls, traditional Thanksgiving sides, including green bean casserole, fried corn confetti, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and stuffing and a choice of two pies.
“It’s been years of us knowing what people expect from Thanksgiving, so we don’t try to throw anything different in there,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
She said although it is a lot of work, her employees handle the pressure well.
“We have the best customers and staff in the world, and that’s why we keep growing more and better every year,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said.
As for Thanksgiving tourism, Crystal Coast Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Jim Browder said he’s anticipating a good crowd this holiday. He said while Thanksgiving doesn’t typically bring a huge number of visitors to the county’s hotels and other temporary lodgings, it often attracts many second homeowners to the county.
“When Thanksgiving time rolls around, a lot of the people who own second homes here come to spend it here,” he said. “So maybe it’s not quite as strong on paper when you see occupancy tax collections, but population wise it’s strong because those second-homeowners come here. That really helps the economy for the whole area, so it’s a nice weekend.”
Mr. Browder said a number of events should keep visitors entertained through the holiday weekend, like the annual Thanksgiving Day turkey trot in Pine Knoll Shores and the Oyster Fest in Morehead City Saturday. He said a promising weather forecast should make for many successful events.
Meanwhile, travel service AAA predicts more than 55 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles away from home for the Thanksgiving holiday this year, a nearly 3% increase over last year. In a news release, AAA said if the prediction pans out, it would be the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since the service began tracking in 2000, trailing only records set in 2005.
“Millions of thankful Americans are starting the holiday season off right with a Thanksgiving getaway,” said Paula Twidale, vice president of AAA Travel. “Strong economic fundamentals are motivating Americans to venture out this holiday in near-record numbers. Consumer spending remains strong, thanks to increasing wages, disposable income and household wealth, and travel remains one of their top priorities for the holiday season.”
The vast majority of travelers will go by car, AAA says, and relatively low gas prices could encourage more drivers to hit the road. Prices are around the same as they were last year at about $2.57 per gallon on average nationwide. In North Carolina, the average is even lower at around $2.37 per gallon.
Those looking to avoid holiday traffic shouldn’t drive Wednesday, as it is expected to be the busiest day for road travel. The traffic analytics company INRIX, in collaboration with AAA, predicts major delays throughout the week, peaking Wednesday with traffic expected to be much higher than usual.
“With record levels of travelers, and persistent population growth in the country’s major metropolitan areas, drivers must prepare for major delays,” said Trevor Reed, transportation analyst at INRIX. “Although travel times will peak on Wednesday afternoon nationally, travelers should expect much heavier than normal congestion throughout the week.”
In anticipation of the busy Thanksgiving weekend, the N.C. Department of Transportation said it is suspending most construction activity along the state’s major highways from Tuesday morning through Monday evening, Dec. 2.
NCDOT echoed AAA’s prediction for bad travel conditions Wednesday afternoon and evening, with heavy congestion expected on interstates, I-95, I-77, I-85, I-40 and I-26, and interstates in urban areas. Sunday will be another big travel day as people head home. Drivers can check drivenc.org for up-to-date travel conditions.
NCDOT provided the following tips for travelers this holiday:
• Leave early to get a head start and travel at non-peak hours if possible.
• Use alternative routes if possible to avoid traffic congestion.
• Allow extra time for your trip, especially if traveling Wednesday or Sunday, regardless of the route you choose.
• To avoid drowsy driving, travel at times you are normally awake and take frequent breaks.
• Avoid distracted driving.
• If you will be drinking alcohol, do not drive at all.
• Pay extra attention on the roadway and to vehicles that are nearby.
• All drivers and passengers need to be wearing seat belts.
Contact Elise Clouser at email@example.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.