Why are so many restaurants closing in Charlotte?

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Katherine Peralta/Charlotte Observer
Hi-Tide Poke & Raw Bar closed its doors on South McDowell Street abruptly in March.

Over the past year in Charlotte, a slew of relatively high-profile restaurants and bars have either closed their doors or put themselves up for sale.

To name a few: The Rogue and Babalu closed on East Boulevard last September. The Liberty closed its restaurants in South End and Blakeney last year. Also last year, Suki Akor closed its doors after only being open for a few months in uptown.

Hi-Tide, Rock Bottom and City Smoke all closed abruptly last month. And Va Da Vie Gelato closed this month at Park Road Shopping Center.

After three years of operation, The Turnhouse Grille announced their closing via Facebook earlier this month.

A few restaurants have put themselves up for sale, including Cupcrazed Cakery, which was sold earlier this month, Peculiar Rabbit and Red House Cafe.

When one door closes …

The number of recent restaurant closures sales seems like a lot. But industry experts say churn is natural in a rapidly growing market like Charlotte, which also continues to add new restaurants, bars and breweries.

Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, noted that restaurants generally do have a “fairly high closure rate,” but that she’s not aware of anything out of the ordinary happening in Charlotte.

“We’re definitely in growth mode,” Minges said of the state’s restaurant industry. “I think probably what you’re seeing is natural attrition for how businesses operate.”

North Carolina restaurants brought in $21.4 billion in sales last year, making it the No. 9 state in restaurant sales nationwide, according to a recent study by the National Restaurant Association. The association projects that restaurant employment will grow by 13.3 percent over the next decade in North Carolina, making it the No. 7 fastest-growing restaurant employment state in the U.S.

Helping to drive growth is the region’s rapidly growing population and strong economy, according to the association. The Charlotte region added 44,500 people from 2017 to last year, according to the latest census figures.

An exhausting industry

Restaurant operators who do close shop or sell their businesses face a number of headwinds that drive their decisions, including personal conflicts, finances, rising rent and difficulty in adapting to customers’ changing tastes, industry experts say.

The Rock Bottom location uptown opened 21 years ago but “just didn’t drive sales,” Josh Kern, chief experience operator of CraftWorks Holdings, told CharlotteFive in March. Craftworks owns all of Rock Bottom’s restaurants.

Photo by Christine Weber
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery

Other restaurants close their doors without much explanation. Some include Newk’s Eatery uptown, which closed in late December, and Hi-Tide Poke & Raw Bar, which closed abruptly last month after less than a year of business on South McDowell Street. Hi-Tide co-owner Michael LaVecchia, who also owns Meat & Fish Co. in the same building, could not be reached for comment.

“Virtually every restaurant goer has seen one of their favorite establishments cease operations. In many instances, that has to do with the landlord and operator being unable to agree on terms going forward,” said Hudson Riehle, head of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge division.

Additionally, Riehle said, in many cases, “small independents will close because there’s no one in the family who wants to take over the business.”

Nolen Kitchen closed its doors in late 2017 on Selwyn Avenue. The restaurant provided little explanation for its closure other than that its spot in Selwyn Corners had been sold. For over a year, Will Choate, a broker at New South Properties, has been marketing the roughly 4,000-square-foot Selwyn Avenue spot.

The property’s owner is “very particular” about which new restaurant takes the Nolen spot, Choate said.

“(The right restaurant) drastically increases the sales of the rest of the shopping center,” he said.

Rob Nixon put his restaurant/bar Peculiar Rabbit up for sale recently in Plaza Midwood. In a call with the Observer, Nixon said the restaurant industry is exhausting, especially with new competition coming in the form of breweries throughout Charlotte.

Photo by Alex Cason
Peculiar Rabbit

“My partner and I are getting kinda old. This is a younger man’s game,” said Nixon, who said he will keep his other businesses open nearby, including Smooth Monkey, the Rabbit Hole and Jackalope Jack’s.

“If I had the energy, I’d rebrand (Peculiar Rabbit) into something completely different. (Something with) new energy and longer legs.”

A version of this article first appeared in The Charlotte Observer.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Charlotte native here. We have always been a restaurant dense city because of the industries thriving here; mainly banks and financial. Most of their employees move here and for whatever reason they don’t cook much, never learned, or aren’t interested. Many companies use Charlotte as a test market, thus the reason many concept restaurants come and go. Established companies use us to test new menu items too. Perfect example comes to mind from 40 years ago; Charlotte McDonalds had the McRib 4 months before Atlanta or Orlando even heard of it. So be happy bankers can’t cook. We get to try foods here months before other cities, or foods others will never see.

  2. Our Baltimore-based cousin is visiting us later this month. She came to Ballantyne two years ago to see where we’ve settled after our decades living much better in Los Angeles. Being old school, she kept a folder of the CLT places she saw on that trip & where we dined. Hilariously, she said, “I’d like to go back to Dean & DeLuca and Gary’s fave coffee shop, Rush in Ballantyne. I also ate at Lure.” My response, “Sadly, they’ve all been shuttered since you were here.” Alas, we’ll take our cousin to some new haunts that we’ve found and cook vegan food for her at home. I do think that closures are par for the course in the restaurant business. In NYC a great many close down during their infancy and first year in business.

  3. Its become annoying habit for “premium/trendy” Charlotte restaurants to overage charge for average food selection, quality and poor service.

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