The walls tell a story. The ceiling tells a story. Milepost 10.5 on the beach road in Nags Head is home to the Surfin’ Spoon. This frozen yogurt bar has more than the basic accommodations. Walking in, it is clear that this is not an ordinary fro-yo place. With the big white bench in the middle of the room and walls covered in surfing magazine articles, this place has soul. Jesse Hines, who owns the Surfin’ Spoon with his wife Whitney, says, “All the frozen yogurt shops [we had seen] were the same: they looked the same and felt the same. They were all futuristic and kind of impersonal.” With this is mind, Jesse said they worked to make it “somewhere people would want to actually hang out more than two minutes to eat their yogurt.”
Nags Head is relaxed. Everything is casual. It is normal to go to the grocery store in your bathing suit or to have a repair man who does not wear shoes. Nags Head’s attractions include the ocean, mostly small stores, but also the Tanger Outlets, plus Jockey’s Ridge sand dunes. Being informal, it is nice to have a fro-yo place on the beach road. People from the surrounding houses and condos have easy access to the place. For this reason, Surfin’ Spoon is lively during the day and each summer night.
Jesse says that fro-yo is different from ice cream in that it “can be healthy or it can not be.” With flavors from pomegranate raspberry sorbet to white chocolate mousse, and toppings that range from mangoes to marshmallow fluff to M&Ms, thousands of combinations are possible. This means you can come back time and time again and continue to try new things. My favorite is to get a base flavor, like chocolate, and then spice it up with an array of toppings like Reese’s, Oreos, and chocolate chips.
Jesse was a professional surfer starting at 19. He said he was “paid to travel with some of the national publications… and certain photographers, and do generalistic features on places all over the world.” His work as a surfer took him from the Middle East to the Arctic Circle. During this time he lived short-term in California but remained mostly in the Outer Banks, where he has lived since moving from Richmond at age 9. Today, Jesse still loves to surf, and you can find him in the water in the winter in his wetsuit when the store is closed for the season. He says, “I always knew when I was a professional surfer that it doesn’t last that long.”
But, all along, he says that “My wife and I always wanted to have a small business, but we didn’t know what it might be. But we always wanted to have a business that we could both be a part of.” After visiting a friend in Athens, Georgia and visiting their frozen yogurt bar, they knew that was what they wanted to start. Especially since there was nothing like it in the Outer Banks until Sweet Frog came along, which was widely successful. Once they found their building in February 2012, Jesse and Whitney worked to open the Surfin’ Spoon by Memorial Day weekend, the official start of the summer season. In just three and a half months, they were able to transform it into the store it is today.
A defining characteristic of the place is the tradition of putting quarters in the ceiling. From the ‘60’s to the ‘80’s, this location was the home of Jockey’s Ridge Restaurant. It was tradition to tip the server by placing quarters in the ceiling. After it burned down in the 80’s, the wood-slatted ceiling was replaced. At the Surfin’ Spoon, the first quarter was placed in between the slats of the ceiling at the grand opening of the restaurant. Since 2003, 6000 dollars have been raised, and $4000 just in the last year. Instead of tipping the employees, the money is given to Surfing for Autism, an organization started by a friend of the Hines. In fact, now not only quarters, but even dollar bills are jammed between the ceiling cracks.
Besides the frozen yogurt and comfortable atmosphere, there are also t-shirts and books for sale. Jesse and Whitney wrote The Surfin’ Spoon: Sebi goes Surfing using the character in their logo, the surfin’ spoon, living Jesse’s life as he transitioned to the Outer Banks when he was young and learning to surf. Their second book, The Surfin’ Spoon: Sebi gets Barreled, is Sebi the spoon following Jesse’s path where he learned to surf at the lighthouse and mastered the surfing technique of barreling.
The Surfin’ Spoon provides not only sweet treats, but also a relaxing atmosphere that tells the story of the surfin’ spoon. When visiting Nags Head, going to the Surfin’ Spoon is necessary. Stopping by the Surfin’ Spoon leaves you feeling refreshed from the hot summer sun, and intrigued from hearing the stories or Jesse’s surfing career, the quarters in the ceiling, and Sebi the surfin’ spoon.
All photos by Morgan Baxter.