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Lisa grew up in Northern California, until graduating high school, and then decided to join the Coast Guard and begin exploring the East Coast. After spending a couple of years in Cape May, NJ, she quickly realized that cold weather was not for her and began migrating south. Along the way, she discovered a passion for the restaurant business in both cooking, and entertaining. “It’s like throwing a party every night!”

Marcelo was born in Santiago Chile, and grew up in the suburbs of New York. This is where he gained his appreciation for culturally diversified cuisines. He later moved to the Carolinas where at the early age of 16 he began his career in the restaurant industry. After many years (I won’t say how many) working for a corporate restaurant, he decided to switch gears and help out his big brother who had just opened his own restaurant in Downtown Manteo.

We met while working at a restaurant on the Outer Banks, and fell in love with the uniqueness of Historic Downtown Manteo. The people are friendly, the weather is beautiful, and it’s exactly where we want to raise our three young children (Emma 4½, Abigail 2, and Alexander 1). With more than 32 years of combined restaurant experience it just made sense to continue our dream and open up our own restaurant right in the heart of Downtown.

The waterside town of Manteo, North Carolina, is a town of contrasts. In the 1930s, a massive fire engulfed much of the downtown waterfront area. Other fires over the years have changed the landmarks of the town, forcing new buildings to be built alongside older ones. Floods have also taken their toll. Anytime a hurricane hits just in the wrong spot, or a hard northwest wind blows, the waterfront can find itself under several feet of water. Newer buildings were eventually built on stilts, but the older ones still rest close to the ground. Manteo’s history was shaped by fires and floods and a propensity to build anew, while hanging on to the past. It is for this reason that the town has grown so architecturally diverse and unique.

One such example of this Manteo building style was recently uncovered by Malcolm and Susan Fearing during the renovation of Ortega’z Grill. As existing walls were torn down in the fall of 2007, remnants of past businesses began to be uncovered. Early on in the project, the walls of an old gas station were revealed, and caused quite a lot of interest as people from surrounding businesses would check on the progress numerous times a day. Many had no idea that Milton Midgett and Maywood Lee had run an ESSO station at that location in the 1930s and 1940s.

After the station was closed, Charles Fearing turned the building into Fernando’s Ale House in 1974. In keeping with Manteo tradition, he took boards from a family barn that had been torn down and used them in his business. These boards will be used for at least a third time by the Ortega family in their restaurant.

The next business to inhabit the structure was the Green Dolphin Pub, which opened its doors in 1980. The Green Dolphin was a fixture in Manteo for twenty-seven years. It will be remembered for its hamburgers and she-crab soup, as well as the pool table and the bar where countless rounds were poured. Many regulars found comfort in the familiar and smoky interior where they passed the hours listening to music or just enjoying the conversation with the people around them. The pub was such a landmark in Manteo, that it was used as a set in an episode of Matlock, the Andy Griffith television drama in which he played a lawyer. The pub had to close for a while to clean up after the floods that swamped the low lying building and again when it experienced a fire in the 1990s. They built over the fire damage, which added yet another mark to the history of the building.

Each business kept a piece of the previous one, while adding something new. Lisa and Marcelo, along with the help of their landlords Malcolm and Susan Fearing and especially their daughter Alison Martin, whose eye for interior design brought a vibrant perspective to the project, have kept that tradition alive by keeping the old gas station’s door frame and windows exposed, using the often recycled barn lumber in the ceiling, and retaining a mural of the Albatross Fleet on the southern wall. Also, they have had a new bar custom made for the restaurant, added more natural lighting, new bathrooms and a covered outdoor eating area. Ortega’z Grill has begun its own Manteo tradition in a building that encompasses 70 years of Manteo’s rich history.

The building experienced an unscheduled make-over after Hurricane Irene flooded downtown Manteo on August 27, 2011. Four feet of water inundated the restaurant before receding to leave a muddy and very smelly mess. Once again, the Fearing family came to the rescue, not only with funding but also working side by side with Lisa, Marcelo and others to get the restaurant cleaned and open for business. The quick reopening was a testament to the work ethic and strength of the Manteo community. Today, Ortega’z Grill continues the Manteo tradition of perseverance and renewal in a building that encompasses 70 years of rich history.

They are also adding the building’s second claim to stardom with a celebrity appearance from Guy Fieri of the Food Network airing fall of 2012.

Ortega'z Southwestern Grill and Wine Bar

252-473-5911
201 Sir Walter Raleigh St.
Manteo, NC 27954
ortegazgrill@yahoo.com