Meet Clarke Merrell | Cooking With The Chefs Tent Left ornament Right ornament
Meet Clarke Merrell | Cooking With The Chefs Tent

Clarke Merrell

NC Seafood Festival Schedule
Saturday, October 1st | Exhibition Chef | 1:00 PM

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 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. As well as an expansion of the Beaufort location called The Kitchen at Beaufort Olive Oil Company, offering specialty cookware/kitchenware, culinary treats and many of Clarke’s favorite products.

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 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.

Get To Know Chef Clarke Merrell

What do you consider the greatest achievement in your culinary career?  
My greatest achievement is building a team of like minded people who share in the same vision, values and passion for food and hospitality. A team of people who truly enjoy exceeding our guest and customers expectations while providing a unforgettable dining experience.

What is your favorite seafood dish? Copious amounts of peel and eat shrimp with a spicy dill cocktail sauce

If you were to eat at Dank Burrito as a guest, what would you order?  1 carne asada taco and 1 jerk chicken taco with a side of queso- Why? It’s what Dank Burrito was built on. These items were some of the first to the menu and they are super delicious

Do you have a favorite kitchen gadget? I have 2, the benriner mandoline (which we sell at the Kitchen store in Beaufort), and a kitchen timer. As smart as you think you are you always lose track of time. A properly set timer always has your back.


The Cooking With The Chefs Tent will be located at the corner of 4th and Evans Street, and will be open on Saturday, October 1st and Sunday, October 2nd.

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  • North Carolina Seafood Festival

    412 D Evans Street, Morehead City, NC 28557



  • Monday: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
  • Thursday: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
  • Friday: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
  • Saturday: closed
  • Sunday: closed


Each year, The North Carolina Seafood Festival produces a Storefront Poster that is distributed to hundreds of businesses on the Crystal Coast and beyond to promote the upcoming Festival. Inclusion
The North Carolina Seafood Festival is sending an open call to North Carolina Artists to become their 2019 Commemorative Poster Artist. Over the past 32 years, the annual NC Seafood