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Mexican restaurant, pizza joint and 2 bars join booming Thrift Road area

Wesley Heights, particularly along Thrift Road, evolved from an industrial area into a booming food and drink district.
Wesley Heights, particularly along Thrift Road, evolved from an industrial area into a booming food and drink district.
Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 7:15 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AXIOS) - Thrift Road is the place to be right now.

What’s happening: Six new businesses are coming to Wesley Heights in 2022 and early 2023: Azul Tacos and Beer serving authentic Mexican street food, an events space called The Ruth, Boxcar Bar + Bites, Runaway Whiskey and Wine Bar, a yoga studio called The Coterie Wellness Studio and Pizza Baby.

  • Developer construction on 2121 and 2135 Thrift Road should be finished in Q4 of 2022. Tenant construction is underway at 2122 Thrift Road.

Why it matters: Wesley Heights, particularly along Thrift Road, evolved from an industrial area into a booming food and drink district.

Yes, but: The west Charlotte neighborhood is experiencing gentrification, and has been for several years.

Flashback: Wesley Heights wasn’t founded as a historically Black neighborhood like neighboring Washington Heights and Biddleville. It was a predominantly white neighborhood, a streetcar suburb, until urban renewal forced Black residents out of Brooklyn.

The Browder Group Real Estate, which owns seven properties on Thrift Road, is the developer.

  • 56% of the Browder Group’s Thrift Road tenants are operating minority-owned businesses and 24% are female owned.
  • “In finding local talents, we’re also finding tenants that are startup businesses and things like that, that don’t have the financial backing that might be required by other landlords, and we give them a shot,” Matt Browder of the Browder Group tells Axios.

Between the lines: Homes in Wesley Heights were more affordable for those who bought in recent years, and they still are more affordable than places like Myers Park. However, prices are going up, which is true across the city.

  • The median sale price in Wesley Heights rose from $337,000 in June 2019 to $538,000 in April 2020, per Redfin data.
  • Young couples, like The Coterie owner Caitlyn Sheff and her husband bought their home in Wesley Heights four years ago.
  • Pizza Baby owner Chef Trey Wilson and his family also call the neighborhood home.

What they’re saying: “I’m hyperaware of my personal privilege and the fact that I’m opening a yoga studio in a gentrifying part of town,” Sheff tells Axios.

  • Sheff chose the 2135 Thrift Location, because she wanted to be close to her home and serve her neighborhood. She will offer a structured sliding scale to make classes affordable.
  • She’s also working with Rebby Kern, the education policy director for Equality NC, which advocates for race equity and gender justice and Raudhah Rahman, a web designer and yoga teacher who focuses on branding through anti-oppression framework, to create an inclusive space.

The big picture: These new businesses join, Midnight Mulligan BrewingSummit SeltzerLucky Dog Bark and BrewCounter-, a ghost kitchen collective, Wray Ward’s office with more than 100 employees. Plus nearby neighbors include Noble Smoke and Lulu’s Maryland-Style Chicken and Seafood.

  • Plus, the area is more easily accessible and less of a headache to navigate now that the roundabout at the intersection of Tuckaseegee Road, Berryhill Road and Thrift Road, where Enderly Park, Seversville and Wesley Heights meet, is open.

Here’s a look at the six incoming businesses:

Azul Tacos and Beer

It’s a family affair for the Womacks. Katrina Womack, owner of the new concept, moved her family to Charlotte from southern California in 2006 to attend Johnson & Wales University. But she couldn’t find authentic Mexican food unless she made it at home.

  • What we see here is a lot more Tex-Mex or a fusion style.
  • “You would never find cheddar cheese in his grandma’s house,” she said nodding toward her son Anthony Castañeda, who is a co-owner. His grandparents, uncle aunt, siblings Joseph Castañeda and Marissa Castañeda, along with his childhood friend Marvin Brindis are also partners on the project.
  • They previously operated Gourmet Street food truck, which served wings they plan to revamp as an extension of Azul Tacos and Beer.

What to expect: Authentic Mexican street food in a 2,700-square-foot space. They’ll serve tacos, burritos, tortas, mulatas, ceviche and more. But if you want to buy a pack of their handmade tortillas and a few pounds of meat to make something at home, you’ll be able to.

  • Drinks will be mostly based around Mezcal and tequila. They’ll also offer agua frescas (a water and fruit drink) and Mexican soda.
  • It will be a fast-casual experience with seating for 70-75 people, including bar seating, a long, farm-style table and retractable doors, along with a shelf around the outdoor railings for people to eat at.
  • The décor will be modern, with a mural by Rosalía Torres-Weiner

Price: Tacos will start at $3. They’re still finalizing other menu price points.

Location: 2122 Thrift Road

What’s next: They hope to open in August.

The Ruth

Marysue Boyle is about to open her third event space in the Charlotte area. Her two others are The Collector’s Room in South End and Circle M Farm in Lincolnton.

  • “The goal is to build an ecosystem of venues in and around the Carolinas really that people can dip into know how we work as a business and appreciate the care that we take in dealing with our clients and working with them and trust our vision for spaces,” Boyle tells Axios.

What to expect: A 10,000-square-foot space that can fit around 300 people and 600 standing, plus a bar and separate meeting rooms and outdoor space. The Ruth will be available for events like weddings, galas, birthdays and corporate events.

  • Plus they’ll offer mixology classes, boozy brunches and Panthers Sundays, where you have brunch and then you’re shuttled to the game. They plan to extend the latter to include some Charlotte FC matches and other events at Bank of America Stadium. You can also stay at The Ruth and watch games there.

Location: 2122 Thrift Road

Price: Venue rentals will start around $3,000, but a Saturday during peak season will be around $8,000.

What’s next: Boyle is targeting an early fall 2022 opening with an open house to showcase the space during the holidays.

  • She also hopes to have six to eight spaces in the next three to four years.

Pizza Baby

This New York-style pizza joint the third concept for Charlotte Chef Trey Wilson, who opened Customshop in Elizabeth 15 years ago and Flour Shop in Park Road Shopping Center five years ago. All three of Wilson’s concepts are now under Art & Commerce Food Group, which he launched this spring with Chef Andres Kaifer and operator Steven De Falco.

  • Wilson’s dough will go through a 24-36-hour fermentation process to become a high-moisture, crisp dough.
  • “It’s a lot of work to get a simple product,” Wilson tells Axios.

What to expect: The 3,000-square-foot space will seat 90 people outside and around 70 people inside. Plus the dough room will be open, similar to the open concept at Flour Shop where you get to see your food being prepared, and also like its sister concepts, Pizza Baby’s menu will change weekly.

  • Seven Sisters Farm will provide the produce, particularly tomatoes for sauces and lettuces for the salads.
  • Pizza Baby will have eight-10 pizzas on the menu, plus four-six salads and vegan options. The dough itself will be vegan and will be for sale. They’ll also offer dough making classes.
  • On the beverage side, they’ll have local craft beer, Italian-focused wines and low-ABV spritz-style drinks.

Location: 2135 Thrift Road

Price: Pies will be 17-inch and $18-$24.

What’s next: Pizza Baby is targeting an early 2023 opening.

  • Wilson wants his fourth concept to focus on bread, but for now, he’s focused on opening concept No. 3.

The Coterie Wellness Studio

Sheff left her corporate job in May 2019 to pursue teaching in the fitness industry full-time. Last year she decided to open her own yoga studio.

  • “It’s not just going to be a workout,” Sheff told me.

What to expect: The Coterie will offer three yoga formats: vinyasa (flow) yoga, yoga with weights and yin yoga. Only vinyasa classes will be heated, and the studio will use infrared panels.

Location: 2135 Thrift Road

Price: There will be a three-tier structure for monthly membership and drop-in classes: a community rate, which will be under $100 for a monthly membership and under $10 for a drop-in class, a sustainer rate and a supporter rate. There will also be class pack options (prices are TBD).

What’s next: Sheff is targeting winter 2022 or early 2023 to open. Until then, you can catch her class every Thursday at 6:15pm at her neighbors, Midnight Mulligan. She’ll also teach once a month at The Collector’s Room, as well as a SweatNET class on Aug. 16 at the Metropolitan.

Boxcar Bar + Bites and Runaway Whiskey and Wine Bar

Steven Martin and Logan Donaldson have been best friends for more than a decade, and had a tiki bar together in South Carolina, but always wanted to move to Charlotte. Now they’re coming in with two separate concepts, which will share a 5,300-square foot space. They will be separated by the kitchen, which they will also share.

  • Martin and Donaldson are in the process of moving here from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

What to expect: Boxcar will provide a more of a sports bar feel, but one you also want to have brunch at, offering rotating local and regional craft beer and speciality cocktails. They’re still ironing out the menu, but think “classic filling dishes with a twist,” Martin told me.

  • Boxcar will be open for brunch on the weekends, lunch and dinner.
  • They also plan to hire local artists to create interior murals, which will change periodically.

Runaway will take you back to 1920′s prohibition era with its décor. It will also offer small places, speciality cocktails and craft beer. Unlike Boxcar, there will be no TVS, so if you want to catch the game, you can walk down the hall. It will be open for brunch on weekends and daily for dinner.

Location: 2135 Thrift Road

What’s next: They plan to open near the end of this year.

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