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The Food Revolution

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From a South End sushi place, to a SouthPark steakhouse, to an uptown gastropub, it seems there’s a new hot restaurant opening in Charlotte all the time.
In fact Zagat’s list of the 26 Hottest Food Cities for 2016 ranked Charlotte number nine, ahead even of Charleston, saying, “Once known only as a sports-centric center of commerce, Charlotte has emerged as the new destination for adventurous, landscape-driven cuisine.”
So what’s going on?

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“Dining is among the top activities visitors are looking to experience when they come to Charlotte and our city is quickly becoming a destination on the rise in terms of our culinary prowess,” says Laura White, the executive director of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
“We’re seeing a mix of well-established restauranteurs in addition to young, inventive chefs, many of whom graduated from Johnson & Wales University. Combine that talent with the concentration of international eateries we have and the traditional Southern flavors we excel at and it’s clear we’re crafting a really special food scene here,” she adds.
Joshua Grogan, the general manager at Vivace agrees. The popular Italian restaurant in the Metropolitan has two sous chefs who are JWU grads.
Grogan says, “The JWU campus opening in 2004 helped, by attracting culinary minded students, who strengthened the talent pool for existing restaurants, and attracted new ventures to the market. Some of these students themselves have gone on to open their own restaurants. To be a successful "food city", you have to have chef-driven concepts.”
But he says there are other factors at play – the explosion of the craft beer scene and the growth of local farms fueling the farm-to-fork revolution.
“Ten years ago you had a handful of farms offering a minimal offering of produce for chefs to fight over- but now we have somewhere north of 350 sources in surrounding counties, offering not just a phenomenal and vast selection of produce, but also cheeses, meats, eggs, dairy, honey, and even sustainable fresh seafood- you can craft entire menus using locally sourced ingredients.”
In fact, the CRVA says, from 2008 to 2016, the Mecklenburg County one percent Food & Beverage tax has increased by $10 million, meaning gross restaurant sales have gone up $1 billion every year in that time.
At least some of that growth is thanks to Charlotte’s restaurant week – Queen’s Feast – that started back in 2008 with just forty-two restaurants. Now there are more than 130 restaurants serving more than 180,000 diners twice a year.
Queens Feast creator Bruce Hensley says, “The Charlotte restaurant scene has changed significantly in recent years due to population growth, the expanding culinary savvy and interests of diners, the strong economy, and the recognition of Charlotte as a great place to live, work, play, and do business. We are seeing a lot of local restaurateurs expand their concepts and create new ones, a lot of first-time restaurateurs and, of course, a fair amount of regional and national chains wanting to stake their claim in our very popular city.”
Grogan adds, “At its essence, you see a mixture of "grit and guts" work ethic coupled with incredible creativity- the result is a very competitive market full of amazing offerings.”

 
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