Sealevel City Gourmet: vegetarian, gluten-free, fresh


Sauteed shrimp and avocado taco special with cucumber salad.

Nikki Spears, original owner of the popular Nikki’s Sushi Bar restaurants, opened Sealevel City Gourmet on Memorial Day. The new restaurant serves vegetarian cuisine, sushi and southern-style seafood with gluten-free options.

“My cook is vegan and the other cook is gluten free, and people can be assured when they come in that they’re well-looked after for preferences,” Spears said.

Vegan cook Emily Lyons described the restaurant as casual gourmet, serving simple food with quality ingredients.

“We have two fryers: one regular, one gluten-free. We have gluten-free flour; there’s no cross contamination and all that stuff,” Lyons said.

Spears said she has encouraged veganism and vegetarianism since reading “Diet for a New American” by John Robbins, which exposed her to the suffering of animals in mass livestock agriculture.

“When I receive a case of cheese, or a case of lettuce, or whatever, you know, I’m also receiving a case of chicken that is actually a flock of birds that were slaughtered by people that live out here somewhere, and they lived a terrible life, and they had a terrible time getting into the box, and that really sucks, and I just got tired of having that blood on my hands,” Spears said.

Sealevel City Gourmet serves seafood to prevent limiting the customer base; however, Spears said she treats fish with the utmost respect.

“I think fish are like jewelry, and I treat them like jewelry because they’re wild,” she said.  “The fish that we serve mostly are wild cod, and it’s a beautiful local food that we have.”

UNC Wilmington junior Maddy Hagood said she enjoyed her meal and plans to return.

“It’s really fresh and organic and healthy. It’s delicious,” Hagood said.

Elizabeth Bryan, another UNCW junior, found the tacos cumbersome but worth the effort.

“It was hard to eat, but it was tasty and it tasted really, really fresh. You could tell,” Bryan said.

Spear’s stepmother inspired the menu. She can eat seafood, but not gluten, lactose or eggs. Spears created the menu so that people with food allergies or special diets have a variety of menu options.

Spears opened and owned Nikki’s Fresh Gourmet from 2000 to 2002, before selling the restaurant to move to Hatteras, N.C. The restaurant was sold again, along with the Nikki’s name, and expanded to the five Nikki’s Sushi Bar restaurants scattered throughout Wilmington and Carolina Beach.

Before moving back to Wilmington, Spears lived in several cities and held various kitchen positions. As both chef and owner of Sealevel City Gourmet, Spears said she enjoys having complete menu control, rather than reproducing dishes that someone else wants to sell.

“That’s my motivation for having my business: so that I can do what I want, present to people what I want to eat,” she said. “This is what I’d like to eat when I go out, and to taste as good, you know, so I have to do it myself, because there’s just nothing available like this that I want.”

Spears said that her favorite part of her job is making customers happy.

“I have the ability to put a smile on people’s face with the food. It makes me happy,” she said. “I like for people to be happier when they leave than when they came in.”

Spears has a personal philosophy that’s been driving her since she became a cook at 15.

“Make something that you’re proud of and sell it. I mean, you can do it,” she said. “Learn about something and teach other people about it. Make people happy.”

Sealevel City Gourmet is open at 1015 S. Kerr Ave. and offers a five percent discount for students.