JJ’s Red Hots in uptown closed for good due to coronavirus. ‘It’s a sock to the gut.’

JJ’s Red Hots in uptown closed for good due to coronavirus. ‘It’s a sock to the gut.’
A popular uptown Charlotte hot dog spot, JJ’s Red Hots, is permanently closed. (Source: JJ's Red Hots)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Catherine Muccigrosso/The Charlotte Observer) - A popular uptown Charlotte hot dog spot, JJ’s Red Hots, is permanently closed.

Business co-founder Jonathan Luther said Friday that since the novel coronavirus hit in March, it’s like a “ghost town” with no one working uptown.

“It forced our hand to close,” he said. “Sometimes concepts just don’t fit.”

The 1,550-square-foot space on South Tryon Street near Romare Bearden Park was the restaurant’s third location in Charlotte, and the only one closing for good. Luther said the lunch hour comprised the bulk of the business since opening three years ago.

“I think it’s going to change offices and office space. The timing is horrible but without the workforce up there, it’s cheaper to close it down,” he said. “It’s a sock to the gut for sure.”

The Ballantyne restaurant on John J Delaney Drive that opened seven years ago is temporarily closed, Luther said, and hopefully, will reopen in the fall.

And the 3,500-square-foot Dilworth flagship that opened eight years ago on East Boulevard is open for takeout and delivery only. Luther said outdoor seating is available with fans and tents for shade, or delivery through third-party apps.

“Luckily, our food is set up for that,” he said of the to-go option. “We’re still not comfortable opening up the indoor area.”

The Dilworth restaurant also has changed hours, now open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

CORONAVIRUS IMPACT

JJ’s Red Hots also has a food truck business that served corporate and other events that “completely evaporated overnight.” So, Luther said they moved the trucks into neighborhoods. It’s helped retain about half of the mobile business.

“We figured we’d bring the food to them,” Luther said. “It exposes us to a lot of different customers we wouldn’t normally see.”

JJ’s Red Hots, a fast-casual restaurant, is known for its Sahlen’s hot dogs and in-house made sausages. The restaurant was also featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” three years ago. Luther said he also collaborates with local breweries.

Luther said the business was seeing a 15% growth year over year until the pandemic hit in March when North Carolina restaurants were ordered to close dining rooms.

Business in Dilworth is down about 35%, he said. The earliest North Carolina could move into Phase 3 of reopening is Aug. 7.

With the help of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, Luther said he’s paying rent and moved some workers to Dilworth. He now has about 30 workers but had to lay off about 50 people.

“It’s been hard on everybody, and now we’re working against the clock because this PPP money is going to run out if this keeps going into fall without stimulus to help restaurants,” Luther said.

He said thanks to his staff and community support, “we’re confident we’ll get through this.”