After being quarantined for nearly a year with our two young children, last week my husband and I decided it was time for a change of scenery! On Friday, we headed down to Charlotte to purchase some furniture at IKEA and, more importantly, check out some of Charlotte’s Black-owned restaurants.
The Queen City has an impressive number of Black-owned businesses, as exemplified by lists by both the Charlotte Observer and local news station, WSOCTV. Out of over 120 businesses listed, more than 50 of them are restaurants. Since the restaurant industry was arguably the hardest hit by the pandemic, it is more crucial than ever to support Black-owned establishments, no matter what city you are in.
For Friday’s first stop, we wanted to start off healthy. There are several juice and smoothie shops in the area, and we decided to go with Juice Box. Located in the NoDa neighborhood, an artsy community located on North Davidson Street, Juice Box opened in 2016 by Kimberly Wilkinson. Wilkinson is a 2009 business marketing graduate from Johnson C. Smith University, and knew early on that she wanted to work for herself. She started in fashion retail after college and opened VIVIAN B boutique in 2010, but fell out of love with the industry after just a few years. Personally, Wilkerson was also trying to find a sweet spot in her personal health journey. During her years as a vegetarian, she started researching the health benefits of juicing. After taking a trip to California to study the business-side of the wellness industry, she determined her next steps as an entrepreneur.
In 2017, Wilkerson opened Juice Box. While fresh-pressed juices and smoothies are the mainstay, Wilkerson’s store has many other delicious items on the menu. From avocado toast, to raw veggie wraps, to smoothie bowls topped with granola and fresh berries, Juice Box will make sure you are satisfying your hunger the healthy way. When my husband and I visited the store on Friday, we ordered the popular Green Machine smoothie. A combination of kale and spinach are the base of this super-healthy drink, and the addition of fresh banana and pineapple—along with organic apple juice and coconut milk to smooth it out—makes for a delicious and energizing beverage. When I asked for double kale to replace the spinach and the addition of ginger to my smoothie, the store attendant accepted my requests with a smile.
One thing we learned about Charlotte the hard way is that they LOVE their Black-owned restaurants. We started calling restaurants at 6 p.m. and were met with many busy signals. Luckily, the famous Mert’s Heart and Soul Restaurant picked up the phone. What’s unique about Mert’s is that it’s location in the heart of downtown Charlotte’s business district, flanked by skyrises on N. College Street, a building owned by the restaurateur, James Bazelle
Georgia-native Bazelle opened Mert’s Heart and Soul to introduce Charlotte to the soul food he grew up with. Mert’s cuisine—which has been featured on the Food Networks “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”—is a combination of creole and southern soul food, with the most popular dishes being red beans with smoked turkey kielbasa, and smoky beef ribs smothered in Mert’s house BBQ sauce. I chose to go with his Gullah inspired shrimp creole and rice, and it was spicy and filled with green peppers, onions, and perfectly cooked shrimp. My husband chose the Soul Sampler. The combination of Mert’s most popular appetizers includes a salmon cake, two large deep-fried chicken wings, and Mert’s signature Soul Roll—an egg-roll stuffed with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and seasoned rice. The Soul Sampler also comes with two delicious dipping sauces, a spicy honey mustard and a classic New Orleans-style remoulade sauce.
Our trip to Charlotte was lovely. The week’s gray skies parted and the sun shone brightly as we visited two of the Queen City’s most exciting Black-owned restaurants. If you live in the area, or are looking for a fun day trip with your favorite person, be sure to stop in Juice Box and Mert’s Heart and Soul Restaurant to nourish your body and feed your soul.