Years of Participation
In 2021, Dean Neff opened his first solo venture, Seabird – a seafood restaurant and oyster bar in Wilmington, NC devoted to North Carolina’s coast -- with wife Lydia Clopton. “We’re passionate about the foodways that make Wilmington so distinctive,” said Neff, a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for “Best Chef Southeast.” Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Neff’s obsession with the sea began with family weekends spent fishing for the evenings’ supper. After working with celebrated chefs across the Southeast like Hugh Acheson and John Fleer, Neff was drawn back to the seaside community, and resolved to support sustainable seafood and fishing from small-scale fishermen and women. First at Pinpoint, named a Southern Living “Best New Restaurant in the South” and now at Seabird, where he serves “Seabirdie” oysters farmed exclusively for Seabird and changes the menu daily based on back door deliveries from coastal foragers. Within months of opening, Eater named it “Essential” and “Beach Restaurant of the Year,” and John T. Edge gave it a “Seafood Salute” in Garden & Gun. Fans from Reader’s Digest and Hemispheres to The Local Palate have praised it as one of THE reasons to visit Wilmington today. While he and his team honor the seasons and the seaside food culture so unique to Wilmington on the menu, Neff is also an outspoken champion of the NC Oyster Trail, the “Stop, Check, Enjoy” campaign, GLOW Academy, and Cape Fear River Watch.