MOREHEAD CITY — A restaurant that was a Carteret County mainstay for nearly 30 years has shut its doors for good.
The Bistro Diners Club, formerly Bistro-by-the-Sea, shut down at the start of the 2021. Its owners, husband and wife team Tim Coyne and Libby Eaton, said after almost three decades in the business, it just felt like the right time to do it.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, and physically, it has taken a toll on our bodies,” Ms. Eaton said. “…Then the pandemic hit and we just felt like it was sign from the universe that it was time. That’s pretty much what decided it for us. We were thinking of an exit plan and it was the pandemic.”
The couple is not from Carteret County originally, but Ms. Eaton said in the early 1990s, they were looking for a place to lay down some roots and found themselves in Florence, S.C. They didn’t love the area though, so when Mr. Coyne got offered a temporary hotel chef gig in Atlantic Beach, they jumped on the opportunity.
Not too long after they arrived, in May 1993, the Bistro was born.
The original Bistro-by-the-Sea was in Atlantic Beach at the old Sportsman’s Pier. It only had around 50 seats, but Ms. Eaton said the restaurant quickly became one of Carteret County’s hottest lunch and dinner spots.
“We would have a three-hour wait every day,” said Ms. Eaton, who managed the front of the house while Mr. Coyne cooked. “My record was 250 people from 5 to 10 (p.m.), that was burning and churning.”
Mr. Coyne has been in the restaurant business since he was a teenager and trained under America’s first Master Chef Milos Cihelcka. He and Ms. Eaton prided themselves on the fact everything they served was made from scratch daily, and they believe it was that commitment to quality that made the joint popular from the beginning.
“We used no microwaves, no deep fat fryers, everything was made to order, everything was fresh, and a lot of people really craved that style cooking here,” Ms. Eaton said, noting the thriving fine-dining restaurant scene in Carteret County today didn’t really exist back then.
A few years later, the Bistro had outgrown its original building, plus Ms. Eaton had some new ideas she wanted to try out with a larger space. The restaurant moved into the building on Arendell Street in 1997 and remained there until it closed this year.
“The main reason why we wanted a bigger space was because I love old movies and I always wanted a piano bar, so we made this to be a piano bar,” Ms. Eaton said. “…I wanted to bring the world here to this community. We were one of the first restaurants to have live entertainment.”
The couple owns the building and are open to either selling or leasing the space, Ms. Eaton said.
The restaurant hosted frequent live performances, oftentimes hosting jazz bands, crooners and other smooth listening. The restaurant also had a private banquet hall, where Ms. Eaton said they threw some amazing parties over the years.
Ms. Eaton and Mr. Coyne said the Morehead City community was always supportive of the restaurant, with many locals becoming regular customers. The couple also liked to be involved with and give back, donating and serving on the boards for various organizations and causes.
“We always loved to give back to our community because they’ve given us so much,” Ms. Eaton said.
In addition to the loyal customers, many of the restaurant’s employees became like family to Ms. Eaton and Mr. Coyne. A few, like sous chef Chris Bossard and server Buddy Murdoch, were with them almost from the beginning.
“We spent more holidays and significant life events with our employees and customers than with our own family, and they are my family,” Ms. Eaton said. “That’s why we built this restaurant, I wanted people to feel like they were coming into my house.”
Though they’ll miss seeing the familiar faces, the couple feels they are getting out at the right time.
“Everybody worked at it real hard for 25, 30 years, and it was just time for something new,” Mr. Coyne said. “…That was our main concern, how do you end something that you’ve been doing for such a long time with a lot of loyal employees and customers?”
As for what’s next, the couple bought property in Carson City, Nev., and are making the move soon. They’ll probably spend a while enjoying their new-found free time, and while they haven’t ruled out eventually opening another restaurant, they don’t plan to open one in Nevada.
“It’s hard to walk away,” Ms. Eaton said, “but everything good has to come to an end.”
Reporter's note: This article was updated at 11:37 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, with more information.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.