The Burgaw Autumn Harvest was held Nov. 2, 2019, at the Burgaw Train Depot hosted by Richard and Carole Johnson, showcasing Johnson's latest venture, Burgaw Now. The antebellum rail depot, built circa 1850 and renovated in 2009, is located along the path of the former Wilmington to Weldon railroad. It is home to the town's chamber of commerce, a banquet hall, a rail museum, and a shared-use commercial kitchen.
The event included a sit-down meal that showcased ingredients from three Pender and Brunswick county farms, prepared by chef Dean Neff, a James Beard Award semi-finalist and former owner and head chef of Pinpoint in downtown Wilmington.
Johnson began making trips into Burgaw for coffee and lunch and stopping at the hardware store after purchasing a farm in the area several years ago. Over time he fell in love with the community, but he says the town "has lost its mojo." Changing demographics over the last 50 years have made it hard for small, rural North Carolina towns to thrive. Johnson, known for founding masonboro.org in 2009, felt the pull to help.
"I seem to have a knack for marketing and seeing how things can come together," he says. "I have moved away from the nonprofit work I have been doing, towards social entrepreneurism."
Johnson began purchasing buildings, some historic, in the downtown Burgaw business area in proximity to the 1939 historic Georgian Revival county courthouse. He created Burgaw Now, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the Pender County community by creating economic opportunity. It is behind the effort to open Fat Daddy's Pizza, owned and run by Jay Kranchalk (formerly at Cape Fear Academy) and Burgaw Brewing Company, owned and run by Art and Robin Hill who are the owners of Panacea Brewing company, a Wilmington-based company that makes kombucha.
"My vision for masonboro.org is mostly complete. BurgawNow.org is a new challenge. I feel strongly I can make a difference in helping the town go through a renaissance," Johnson says.