On Friday, USA Today named Salud Beer Shop the best beer bar in the country, based on reader votes.
To those who are familiar with the owners, Dairelyn and Jason Glunt, this really comes as no surprise. Dairelyn, alongside her brother Dalton Espiallat and their cousin Odette Espiallat, were featured on Food Network’s “Family Food Showdown” — Dairelyn told us it was after the network read our CharlotteFive article about siblings in the restaurant industry [insert humblebrag].
But as for Dairelyn herself on how she feels about this announcement: “I don’t know yet — I’m just still trying to grasp everything,” she said.
A vision for a vacant retail space
It all began in 2012, as Charlotte’s beer scene was beginning to gain momentum. Both NoDa Brewing and Birdsong Brewing had recently opened in their original locations along the North Davidson corridor.
At the very end of what was beginning to be considered the Arts District was a vacant space behind Neighborhood Theatre, previously occupied by Realeyes Bookstore, with historic paned windows and the possibility of once again becoming a community space.
Enter Jason and Dairelyn Glunt.
“He’d wanted to own his own business as long as I’d known him,” said Dairelyn, who met her future husband while out dancing at a Charlotte Latin club in 2007. “We weren’t necessarily thinking craft beer, but he knew he wanted to work for himself.”
Jason had been bartending at Eez in Huntersville and had segued into a job with Vanguard, passing the incredibly challenging Series 7 test on the first try. He worked for two weeks after gaining this certification and then put in his two weeks’ notice, telling his boss he wanted to open a beer shop.
“They told me I was crazy,” Jason said with a chuckle. But he didn’t let it get him down.
From 2011-2012, the Glunts were living in Highland Mills apartments, next door to where Heist Brewery’s flagship location now sits. Brawley’s Beer Shop was open on Park Road but at the time was to-go only. Then there was Common Market, who also had great beer but was not singularly focused. The Glunts wanted to open a shop in NoDa.
Jason, with great respect to the community and those who’d paved the way, wanted to focus solely on craft beer, which just seven years prior, was slowly expanding across the country. Way before Sierra Nevada expanded to its North Carolina location in Mills River, Jason was drinking its IPA after finishing up his bartending shifts. This, as Marie Kondo would say, “sparked joy.”
The Charlotte beer community has remained tight-knit — but this was especially true in those early days. Before opening, the Glunts could be found visiting their friends at the few open breweries the city had at that time — can you believe there were only three at the time? — growing their network and eventual incredibly loyal customer base.
Driving past the empty storefront at 3306 N. Davidson Street on a daily basis, Jason had his mind set on what would become their shop’s location. With a business plan handwritten in a black and white notebook, Jason inked away at his ideas for what this shop could be. So he took out a loan, and they went for it.
“We were told time and again that this was a bad idea — even told by another business owner — that nothing had ever worked in the space we were planning to occupy,” Dairelyn said. But they believed in their dream, stayed focused on their goals and slowly began to grow their empire.
On March 15, 2012, after months of upfitting the space and painting those large window panes from white to their now-iconic orange, and lining the walls with beer from vendors Jason had penciled away in his notebook, Salud Beer Shop opened its doors. It had one employee, Jason, while Dairelyn stayed at home with their 15-day-old baby, Jade.
“I don’t know how she didn’t leave me,” Jason said. Dairelyn laughed. “It never even crossed my mind that he was insane,” she said.
The Glunts have a reputation for getting rare beers that others aren’t able to get their hands on. Dairelyn said that comes from Jason’s relentless research of what’s coming out next, often knowing before even the sales reps, and by building relationships. “Being kind is common sense,” Dairelyn said.
“They are more than a bottle shop. Back when they opened, they were a gateway for people new to craft beer to expand their palates,” said Suzie Ford, co-owner of NoDa Brewing. “Jason did such a great job of educating about our craft while making it approachable. He’s always supported local while bringing in new and exciting styles and breweries.”
Dairelyn said just last year, everything at the shop seemed to be breaking. “We’d come in and the AC unit would be out or a refrigerator would be broken. We were working to open our kitchen, and we’d find out we hadn’t passed inspection. It was so bad we wanted to have a curandero come in to sage and pray over it. We had no idea what was going on.”
They didn’t have to call a Latin American healer, however. Things began to look up.
They hired Dustin Di Lorenzo, formerly from Newgrass Brewing in Shelby, to brew for their 7 BBL brewery Salud Cerveceria, which shares space upstairs. And just this week, in tandem with the news of their award, they opened the long-awaited pizza kitchen.
Salud won 5th place last year in the USA Today contest. The winners are selected through a voting process. To be in the running, a place must be nominated by a beer writer. Salud was nominated by Ale Sharpton from Atlanta.
“I picked Salud because Jason and the team have really been great people since day one, and being fellow hip-hop heads certainly didn’t hurt,” Sharpton said. “After witnessing their growth via dedication and innovation, it became a world-class spot that deserves the national attention. I have love for the entire Charlotte beer scene but make sure Salud is a must whenever I step foot in town.”
Dairelyn said she is still processing it all, but she graciously accepts the award. “We have lost sleep over this place and poured our hearts and souls into it. It is honestly well-deserved, and it feels amazing to be recognized.”