Nick Sanders and Susanne Hackney had a clear understanding and vision of what they wanted to create for The Hackney in the tiny town of Washington, North Carolina. Nick, an Englishman and Susanne, a native of Washington, NC, resurrected a derelict former Bank of America building. In the process they brought a sense of sophisticated, European, old school charm to their fine dining and gin distillery establishment.
The team understood the power that renewal and regeneration can have on a community. Taking their cue and inspiration from the eclectic east London borough, called Hackney, they had seen the transformation of a once problem area turned into a vibrant creative neighborhood. Susanne's family name of Hackney (founders of the truck body business, Hackney & Sons) also had a strong record of entrepreneurship in Washington, NC.
"Our vision for The Hackney was to create a destination restaurant and gin distillery that would be a beacon for downtown Washington. A place that would bring new people to discover our beautiful historic waterfront town and inspire other entrepreneurs to come and build businesses in the amazing downtown," explains co-owner Nick Sanders. "At the time we bought the building, the downtown was blighted by many empty and unloved buildings, but you could see it had so much potential."
Before moving to Washington, NC, from England, the two had spent 25 years working for large multinational food and beverage companies, Nick, building brands and Susanne, delivering Operations strategy. "When we were planning the move, we wanted to open our own business that would utilize our skills in building businesses and do something consequential that would contribute to the future success of the town. Having both lived in the UK, we had watched with great interest the explosion of craft distilling that was driven primarily by a renewed interest in gin and thought that would be an exciting proposition to bring to North Carolina."
Nick and Susanne bought the 1922 neoclassical building on the corner of West Main and North Respess streets in July 2017 and set to develop plans for its renovation. Given the building's historical significance, they worked closely with the State's Historical Preservation Team to ensure they maintained the integrity of the building. Much of the restoration involved stripping the old building back to its original glory and winning the "Best Historic Rehabilitation Project" from the NC Department of Commerce. The Hackney restaurant opened in January 2019, with the gin distillery following in December 2019.
"Core to our concept is marrying the creativity and energy from London with the amazing local ingredients and warm hospitality of Eastern North Carolina," says Sanders.
The restaurant is now housed in what was once the banking hall. A resplendent space with a double vaulted ceiling edged with handcrafted molding, Tennessee marble floors in the foyer, opulent crystal chandeliers, and a banquette-style bar. The original bank vault at the restaurant's back has been restored to its former splendor and now leads into the kitchen. A large glass window allows diners to look inside the workings of the gin distillery. "The distillery plays an integral role in the restaurant. You can see our beautiful copper still "George" (Inspired by George Washington) from the restaurant through the window next to the bar. Our 1000 Piers Gin features prominently on our crafted cocktail menu, which also changes with the availability of seasonal produce. The distillery also features its own tasting room where you can discover the secrets behind how we distill," says Sanders.
The Hackney's ambition is to be the best restaurant in Eastern NC, so delivering great plates of food is the foundation of their operation. "Our fantastic kitchen team is led by Chef Jamie Davis (read about him in our Meet the Chef feature.) His focus is on creating simple, delicious plates of food that showcase our excellent local produce, seafood, and meat," says Sanders. Their proximity to the coast means the seafood-focused menu sits comfortably alongside pucker British fares like beef wellington, sticky toffee pudding, and the all-important afternoon tea.
Little Washington is a picturesque town in Beaufort County, with around 10,000 residents surrounded by farmland. The Tar and Pamlico rivers run through it, with the Pamlico Sound on its doorstep. The Hackney relies on a solid base of local customers as well as those seeking a retreat.
"Our whole philosophy is to engage our community, and we do that by sourcing as many local ingredients as possible for the restaurant and our gin. We are rigorous about it, so our menu is hyper-seasonal, changing by the day, as the local produce and the landed fish changes all the time. It also gives our regular customers another good reason to come back and visit us," says Sanders.
Downtown Washington has experienced quite the renaissance since The Hackney opened. There are independent retailers, including 2 breweries, clothing boutiques, homewares stores, art galleries, antique shops, and a spa. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of people visiting to dine at The Hackney and spend the day enjoying the heritage town, the water, and all the area has to offer.
The Hackney team are now turning their attention to the new 1000 Piers Blueberry Gin launch. A fruit-forward floral gin base that is muddled with fresh blueberries. Future plans include developing a unique outside space next to The Hackney that will be developed into a botanical garden with an outdoor dining space. And, if that doesn't keep them busy enough, there are plans to build 14 bespoke guest rooms above the restaurant. Stay tuned.