BFFs to Open Campground, Restaurant

Sundae Horn
Drew Batts, left, and Clayton Jernigan, proud new owners of a campground.
Drew Batts, left, and Clayton Jernigan, proud new owners of a campground.

Re-christened Jerniman's, the Ocracoke favorite will open in February 2020. 

Drew Batts is brimming over with enthusiasm. He's friendly and eager to say he "could not be more thrilled" about owning and operating a campground/bar/restaurant on Ocracoke with his best friend since 5th grade, Clayton Jernigan. 

Drew visited Ocracoke for the first time in March while on a NC lighthouse tour with his wife, Samara, who was checking Ocracoke Light off her birthday bucket list. They came down for the day from Hatteras, intending to catch the Swan Quarter ferry, but didn't know they needed a reservation, so they had to find another way home. They decided to head back to Hatteras to spend the night, and as they drove up Highway 12, Drew noticed the "For Sale" sign in front of the gas station. He couldn't stop thinking about it.

Fast forward a few months and the property is under contract. After some due diligence, Jerniman's campground should be ready to start taking 2020 reservations on September 1. They are planning for a February 1 opening. 

Both men live in Wilson County, North Carolina, and already work together at Drew's AutoRazzi business. They are also both new to Ocracoke but willing to take the plunge into this business adventure. They will renovate and re-open the business formerly known as Ocracoke Station & Beachcomber Campground. (As many Ocracoke residents do, I still refer to it as "the Texaco" as in "I heard it to the Texaco, so it must be true" even though it hasn't been an actual Texaco Station for many years. Old habits die hard.) 

Drew told me that the name, Jerniman's, is a marriage of Clayton's last name (Jernigan) and Drew's longtime dream of owning a place called "The Man Card Bar & Grille." He also referenced the journey/adventure this business is taking them on as part of the appeal of "Jerniman's." "I love the name," Drew said. "It rolls off my tongue."

I met with Drew on Friday, soon after he arrived to spend the weekend cleaning and fixing up the Jerniman's building. As most Current readers know, the campground and retail/food service part of the business has been closed since May 2018 (read more about that here), but gas has been available off and on (mostly on) due to pay-at-the-pump service. Under Jerniman's management, the gas business will remain the same (24/7, pay-at-the-pump), run by the same company. Jerniman's won't be in the gas business, but will be on site to quickly respond and call for repairs if the pumps act up.

The new sign went up over the weekend.
The new sign went up over the weekend.

Drew and Clayton have a lot of work to do. "We've met with the septic inspector, the health inspector, the building inspector," Drew said. "An electrician is coming tomorrow to check the wiring and air conditioning, and then we'll get a plumbing inspection." Their plans for the building and campground include cleaning, painting, re-doing the floor, re-building the back deck, improving the hook-ups for the campsites, and fixing up the front porch. 

The campground offers 21 vehicle sites (all with water and electricity; four have septic hook-up) and 5 tent camping sites under some shade trees. Jerniman's Facebook page has blown up comments with former Beachcomber campers who are eager to come back. "The Facebook posts have been crazy," Drew said. "We went from 3000 views to 13,000 views in three days!"

The campground includes access to the back deck of Jerniman's and bathroom and shower facilities. Drew mentioned that they'll make the area behind the store a nice place for campers to hang out. He'd like to show movies on the back of the building. 

Most customers will only see the front and inside of Jerniman's, but that's where the biggest changes will be. Drew and Clayton are re-working the interior layout and morphing the business from a campstore with carryout food to a full bar (beer, wine, mixed drinks) and restaurant, with a stage for live music, deejays, and karaoke. 

"We're going to have a stage and a dance floor, and maybe squeeze in a couple of pool tables," Drew said. He doesn't see any reason to offer groceries and sundries with the Variety Store right next door, and will limit grab-and-go items to snacks and cold drinks.

"We want to serve a cafeteria-style fast lunch with different specials each day," Drew said. "On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we'll offer breakfast and lunch, and on Thursday and Friday, there'll also be a nice dinner, with something heavier like primer rib or brisket." A bar menu will also be available each evening.

Breakfast will include "hoopcheese biscuits, grits, and pancakes." One thing there won't be is seafood. "We want to do something different and not try to compete with other businesses on the island," Drew said. "Everyone else does seafood so well. We're going to offer country cooking, soul food."

When Drew told me he was from Eureka, NC, near Wilson, I asked if he loved Parker's BBQ as much as my family. Of course he does, but not only that – he was a Parker's boy for seven years in his youth! He wore that paper hat with pride and told me, "Once a Parker's boy, always a Parker's boy." Clayton was also a Parker's boy – for just one week. "It's not for everyone," Drew laughed. 

Parker's is where Drew got his restaurant experience, all front-of-house. The rest of the food service industry is new to both men. Drew is an entrepreneur and Clayton is an avid camper and also a handyman (he worked in his father's business wiring hospitals); they've hired a friend, Joe Killion, to handle their website and marketing. They also plan to hire local – look for Help Wanted postings sometime this fall. 

Neither of the new owners plans to live on Ocracoke full-time. They will take turns operating Jerniman's on a week-on, week-off schedule, and cross paths on Sunday (when the business will be closed.) During busy holiday weekends, they expect it will take them both to keep the operation running smoothly.

Drew is enthusiastic about getting to know Ocracoke people and places. He plans to have a place inside Jerniman's to display local businesses' rack cards, and is concerned that Jerniman's be an asset to the island.

"I know we'll be competition with Teeter's Campground," he said. "Before we signed the contract, I drove through there. They have a lot more campsites than we do and they were full. The Park Service campground was full, too. I think we'll all stay full because so many people want to be here. It's a testament to how nice this town is, everyone wants to be here."

Jerniman's will open February 1, and host a Grand Opening party on May 1, 2020.


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