Executive Chef and Owner of Circa 81 Tapas & Cocktaileria, Clarke Merrell, created everything you see at the restaurant; from the custom-built coppertop bar, to the ever popular Circa 81 martini, Clarke has his hand in every aspect of Circa 81’s operations.
Clarke completely renovated the restaurant space in late 2009 to truly reflect his style. Circa 81 then opened on January 20, 2010. Many people often ask where the name comes from. Clarke and his wife, Liza, were both born in 1981. Circa means “about or approximately” and they both thought it fit perfectly with the number 81.
Clarke grew up working in the restaurant industry, as his parents took over operations at Atlantic Beach’s DJ Shooters in 1988. Clarke graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts from the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. Clarke has worked in a variety of restaurants and learned from some very talented, like-minded award-winning chefs.
In July of 2012 Clarke opened up the Twisted Spoon, a frozen yogurt bar. The Twisted Spoon gives Clarke an opportunity to offer another great family destination in Morehead City. In March 2013 Clarke opened up Beaufort Olive Oil Company, offering premium oils and vinegars, exotic salts and specialty provisions. Beaufort Olive Oil Company allows shoppers to sample any of the oils and vinegars and see recipe and pairing suggestions. The products are free of additives and preservatives, organically grown and you can truly taste the difference. Clarke uses many of the oils, vinegars and salts in dishes at Circa 81. He now has four locations of Beaufort Olive Oil Company in Beaufort, Morehead City, Swansboro and Emerald Isle.
In May of 2014 Clarke rolled out a food truck, called the Dank Burrito. Dank means “fresh” or “of high quality.” Clarke has created delicious, unique burritos and tacos using a variety of proteins, housemade salsas, slaws, and kimchi, just to name a few. The food truck operates all around Carteret and surrounding counties. The Dank Burrito opened its first restaurant location in October 2015 in Morehead City, while continuing to also travel with the food truck. The food truck operates all around Carteret and surrounding counties. Dank Burrito was named National Food Truck Rookie of the Year by mobile-cuisine.com for 2014.
Clarke was named 2015 Arnold Murray Small Business Person of the Year by the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce. Circa 81 has participated in the NC Seafood Festival Chef’s Tent and People’s Choice Crabcake competition, the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival (where Clarke won 3rd place in 2013’s Chef’s competition), and the Fire on the Dock culinary competition (where team Circa 81 was a 2013 finalist and 2014 semi-finalist). Circa 81 was also finalist for the 2011 Best Dish NC contest. Clarke was named Favorite Chef in 2015 by Coaster Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards. Circa 81 was named “Best Eats on the Crystal Coast” by Cooking with Paula Deen magazine in 2015. Circa 81 has been named Open Table Diner’s Choice 2013-2016. Circa 81 is also a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Winner.
Clarke’s goal is for Circa 81 to provide creative, quality, delicious food in a beautiful setting. Offering small plates that are perfect for passing around the table in true tapas style, our dishes are meant to inspire and engage our diners.