Few announcements excite Charlotte more than food. Cue Optimist Hall, the city’s first food hall. Situated in the Optimist Park neighborhood between Uptown and NoDa, the newest culinary addition to the Queen City will open its doors today, Aug. 1.
The 147,000 square-foot space is the redevelopment of a former turn-of-the-century textile mill, blending Charlotte’s industrial heritage with modern ideals of innovation, sustainability and urban renewal. Complemented by retail and creative space, the food hall will bring locals and visitors together to enjoy the city’s rich history — and incredible food.
“The atmosphere, character and history of the building is breathtaking,” said Brittany Cohen, co-owner of the Charlotte branch of Village Juice Company. “The living and open market concept will welcome all visitors connected to the city, and it will make the space feel alive all hours of the day. This will be an epi-center of activity for Charlotte.”
Here’s a look at the space and a quick guide for your visit to what could become Charlotte’s most popular foodie destination.
The story behind the space
Paces Properties and White Point Partners, the developers behind the project, retained many of the property’s original, 120-year-old elements, including hardwood floors, 14-foot and higher ceilings and industrial features like bricks and beams.
Light fixtures were found in the crawl space below the building and cleaned for use in the hall. There’s currently 60 hanging throughout, with more to come.
Plentiful seating populates the space as well, including communal tables designed by American artist Donald Judd and private nooks to enjoy bites with a small group of friends.
The outdoor courtyard provides more seating with views of Uptown.
Additional elements outside of furnishings were preserved as well. The mint green color that runs throughout the hall was part of the original space during its time as a mill. When workers would lean against the wall with their hands, the green would show less dirt and hand prints, so it was painted around the perimeter.
“It would’ve been easier to tear this place down,” said Merritt Lancaster, formerly of Paces Partners. “The whole structure was complicated. When we first looked at [the space], everything you see here you couldn’t see from the street. The windows were blacked out. But there was this cool little building hidden in this behemoth.”
In order to gain approval to begin working on the space, the developers were informed they must also buy the building attached to it, which was later taken down to begin work on the mill.
“It’s amazing when you come to look at it now,” Lancaster said. “It’s not the same animal.”
When walking throughout the hall, scents of pork belly, creamy gelato and fresh coffee waft throughout the space. But it wasn’t always like that.
“It smelled like crayons,” said said Erik Johnson, co-founder of White Point Partners. “The mill workers used cottonseed oil to lubricate the machines, which gave it that smell.”
Furthermore, when the developers first walked the old mill, there were boxes of pantyhose stacked up throughout.
The textile mill was originally owned by Highland Park Manufacturing Company. It became one of the largest gingham factories in the country and made the area a self-contained industrial district. The developers purchased the space from Sam Kaplan, a textiles entrepreneur who was involved in the first debut of Spanx shape wear. Founder and CEO of Spanx, Sara Blakely, couldn’t find a mill to make a sample of her shape wear concept for retailer Neiman Marcus. She called Kaplan and put in an order for 10,000. Kaplan saw the value in the idea, and the rest is history.
Both Lancaster and Johnson admired Kaplan’s entrepreneurial spirit and his ability to see their vision for the space.
“If we had a traditional seller, this may have never happened,” said Lancaster.
The vision grew over the past few years into a highly-anticipated space that will serve visitors from the morning and carry through to the evening.
“You’re creating so much supply, there’s a demand for it,” he said. “We want [visitors] to come in the morning and stay for the day.”
Where: 1115 N. Brevard St.
By car: Uber and Lyft are highly recommended, but if you’re driving, look for designated signs that point to parking.
By light rail: Take the rail and exit Parkwood Street Station, then turn right.
By bike: From Uptown, take the Rail Trail pathway past the 9th Street Station. After you bike under 277, turn right onto 12th Street alongside Alpha Mill Apartments and then left on Brevard Street. You’ll follow the bike path the whole way. Head straight to Optimist Hall. Bike racks are available on site.
Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday, 10:30am – 10 p.m.
Tip: Some tenants may have varying hours, so check before you plan to visit. For instance, Undercurrent Coffee will be open at 7 a.m. Monday-Friday and at 8 a.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Open now: Six tenants will be fully operational on opening day, including Bao and Broth Ramen + Bun Shop, Honeysuckle Gelato, Pet Wants, The Spindle Bar, Undercurrent Coffee and Zukku Sushi.
Opening soon: Archer Paper, Ava, Papi Queso, Suarez, The Dumpling Lady and Village Juice Company are slated to open mid-August to September.
Opening this autumn: In the fall, we’ll see openings from Aix Rotisserie, Billy Sunday, Botiwalla, El Thrifty Social Club, Felix’s Empanadas, Fonta Flora Brewery and Velvet Taco.
Not sure where to head first? Get to know the vendors:
The developers carefully selected the vendors for the space.
“You can fill spaces, that’s easy,” said Lancaster. “What’s hard is making sure you have the right things and right people building them. You get the best operators, and that’s what creates the ambiance.”
(1) Aix Rotisserie
This authentic French rotisserie will be operated by the former owners of Aix on Provence. Opening this fall.
If you’ve been to the Ponce City Market in Atlanta, you’ve likely strolled by this stationery and gift retailer inspired by the sport of archery. Look for greeting cards, desk supplies, pencils, art prints, gift wraps and books. Opening in August/September.
Having found success in Tampa’s Armature Works food hall (a similar restored, mixed-use space), this Italian concept will bring pizza to the Queen City that’s meticulously prepared fine Italian flour and hand-prepared dough. Opening in August/September.
Restaurateur Bruce Moffet and chef Larry Schreiber will share authentic Asian street food recipes like steamed buns and ramen bowls. Open now.
Known for its classic drinks, this award-winning, Chicago-based cocktail bar will blend vintage spirits with a culinary approach to flavor to create a rich sip for food-hall-goers. Opening this fall.
Dedicated to preserving cooking traditions and authentic cuisine, Botiwalla will serve authentic Indian street food like kebabs and rolls wrapped in hot, buttered naan. Opening this fall.
This Greenville-based, all-day Mexican cantina will serve craft cocktails and offer upscale gaming and entertainment. Opening this fall.
Dedicated to individuals “committed to carbs,” Felix’s Handmade Empanadas became a food truck staple in Charlotte by serving unique, homemade empanadas (think: pepperoni pizza, shepherd’s pie). Opening this fall.
It wouldn’t be a Charlotte party without a brewery in the mix, and North-Carolina-based Fonta Flora Brewery will serve brews inspired by English and Belgian traditions. Opening this fall.
The result three friends’ passion project to “Be Sweet,” Honeysuckle Gelato serves scoops, pints, sandwiches and shakes with Southern-inspired flavors like Brown Butter Crunch, Lemon Raspberry Crumble and Bourbon Pecan Praline. Open now.
The wildly-popular, cheese-inspired food truck and “streatery” will soon have a brick-and-mortar stand, serving fan favorites like the gooey grilled cheese sandwiches seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Opening in August/September.
You may recognize this all-natural pet food brand from local pop-ups. It will offer retail options to purchase slow-cooked, small-batch food for your furry friend. Open now.
(13) Suárez Bakery & Barra
This “2.0 concept” from Suárez Bakery will offer popular favorites like pastries and doughnuts supplemented by a Cuban menu. Opening in August/September.
Serving traditional Sichuan family recipes, this popular food truck’s owner will soon serve authentic, locally-sourced dumplings, noodles and Sichuan street food in the food hall stall. Opening around August 12.
Run by Billy Sunday mixologist Stephanie Andrews, this 18-seat cocktail bar will serve drinks that you’re able to carry throughout the entire food hall (due to its unique liquor license). Open now.
This full-service coffee and espresso bar will fuel your travels throughout the hall with cold brew selections, lattes, cappuccinos and teas. Open now.
Founded on core beliefs that tacos can venture beyond basic Tex-Mex cuisine, this fast-casual restaurant selects ingredients with the same care used in fine dining, creating scratch-made tacos and boozy margaritas. Opening this fall.
Based out of Winston-Salem, this family-owned concept couples the idea of healthy eating with a bounty of flavor and color. Look for cold-pressed juices, nut milks, smoothie bowls and dishes crafted with organic ingredients. Opening in August/September.
At Zukku Sushi, the rice is your canvas. Create your own sushi roll, burrito, and poke bowl, or choose from curated selections on the menu. Open now.
1115 North Brevard Street