Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, consistently ranks among the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States. And the Queen City is emerging as one of the country’s most exciting culinary hubs, too. Over the last decade, a diverse set of culinary creatives have planted award-winning roots here, like James Beard Award–nominated restaurants Leah & Louise and Kindred. Part of this influx can be attributed to the 2004 opening of the Charlotte campus of Johnson & Wales University, a food, beverage, and hospitality school that also had a now-shuttered campus in Charleston, South Carolina, only a three hour drive away. As the culinary talent pool grows, so too does the number of Black chefs and mixologists pushing Charlotte’s culinary scene forward. Add these Black-owned restaurants, bars, and pop-ups to the must-eat list for your next visit.
If you know anything about Charlotte’s buzzing culinary culture, then you’ve likely heard of James Beard nominee chef Greg Collier and his wife and business partner, Subrina, who moved to the area in 2012 and opened now-closed brunch spot The Yolk. (The couple plans to open a new incarnation in the South End neighborhood in 2022.) Last year, the couple debuted their new modern-day juke joint, Leah & Louise, in the city’s creative hub, Camp North End. The restaurant pays homage to Collier’s Memphis roots and the flavors of the African diaspora with dishes such as oxtail dumplings, Leah’s cabbage (named for his late sister), and Arthur Lou pie, made with Tang custard, oat crust, floral meringue, and fresh fruit.
The Colliers debuted in October a three-day event, the BayHaven Food & Wine Festival, a showcase that brings together dozens of Black chefs and mixologists as well as Black-owned wine and spirit brands from around the country. Throughout the weekend, Leah & Louise bar manager Justin Hazelton designed cocktails to accompany dishes from the festival’s all-star roster of chefs, including popular Charlotte pastry chef Jamie Turner (The Asbury); Whitney Thomas (5Church Atlanta), one of the few Black woman executive chefs in the country; and Anthony Denning, owner and chef of the perpetually busy Another Food Truck. The inaugural BayHaven festival featured a multi-course Harlem Nights themed dinner that saw attendees dressed in their best 20s and 30s-inspired attire, and tasting tents where guests sampled small bites and cocktails of more than two dozen national chefs and mixologists.
Vegan Vibes Series with Chef Joya
Adjoa Courtney, better known as Chef Joya, has followed a vegan lifestyle since she was about seven years old, when her love of cooking began in her grandmother’s kitchen. As she grew older, she began perfecting vegan versions of comfort dishes like macaroni and cheese, chicken and waffles, and bang bang shrimp. Since moving to Charlotte in 2011 she has hosted a series of pop-up dinners across the city, became the personal chef of R&B singer Fantasia, and released a series of cookbooks to help those just starting their plant-based or vegan journey easily transition with twists on their favorite dishes. She was named ‘best chef’ and ‘best vegan chef’ in Charlotte in 2019 by QC Nerve— a local print publication in Charlotte. As for what’s next, she says she has “so many things in the works, but the most exciting things are my new cookbook that’s great for transitioning kids to vegan cuisine,” plus a culinary tour. You can find Chef Joya at local vegan festivals, including the Vegan Vibes Series typically hosted in Charlotte’s summer months.
Born and raised in South Carolina’s Lowcountry and trained at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, chef Andarrio Johnson made his way to Charlotte in 2011, when he and cousin Anglee Brown started a soul food truck named Cuzzo’s Cuisine. The business was such a success that they soon opened a brick-and-mortar location on the West Side, where they serve their famous lobster mac and cheese, plus other favorites like fried chicken, collard greens, fried oysters, and shrimp and grits. On any given day, you might find celebrities like former Carolina Panthers running back Steve Smith or rapper Jack Harlow popping in for a meal. Johnson hopes to eventually franchise the brand with locations across the region and country.