The state of Charlotte brunch
It's the summer of 2013, a Saturday.
You're waking up in your $800 a month 1 bedroom apartment. Your hangover starts pounding in your head the same way you were pounding shots at Dixie's Tavern last night. Luckily, you recently signed up for this thing called Netflix, and you're looking forward to chugging some Pepto and watching Law and Order: SVU.
Benson and Stabler are such a great duo.
You get a call on your Samsung Galaxy. You answer it before your ringback tone (Royals by Lorde) can play. But you already know what the call is proposing. Because there's only one thing to do when you're hungover on a Saturday.
Bottomless mimosas. Greasy egg sandwiches. Blood Mary bars stained with tomato juice. Chicken and waffles. A sunny patio.
It's time for brunch.
In a city booming with young people, and obsessed with alcohol, you would imagine that brunch would be thriving in Charlotte. After all, everything else is. Self-serve bars, breweries, hybrid tacos, Italian food, counter service, wine and cocktail bars, food trucks turned brick and mortar, and transplant chains all had fantastic years in Charlotte.
But as you look through the tastemaker rankings of the best 2019 openings, brunch is conspicuously absent.
In 2019, it would appear no restaurant opened with brunch as its primary function aside from Plaza Midwood's Snooze AM, a Denver-based chain.
Link & Pin, a new gastropub in Southend, has a substantial brunch menu including corn flake French toast and Nashville hot chicken, but the spot is first and foremost for cocktails and dinner. North Italia [8.0] has a brunch menu some junior executive probably commissioned as his intern's semester project.
Both of these restaurants have the resources to offer brunch as part of their appeal. The same applies to most notable brunches in Charlotte. Names like 5Church dominate the high-end brunch conversation, as the more casual end of the pool gets older and shallower.
Chef Alyssa's Kitchen (which started serving brunch in December of 2018) was among the few bright spots of the year in the brunch vertical. Arguably, the last great brunch opening was Holler and Dash in the first quarter of 2018, almost two years ago.
2019 saw brunch take steps backward, as Zada Janes announced it would expand into a social house in collaboration with Cavendish Brewing. Vivace, a favorite brunch offering of the in-the-know crowd, closed its doors on January 1st.
Here are four theories on what's going on with brunch in Charlotte.
1. The death of the bottomless mimosa
Getting an unlimited amount of orange juice and champagne for $12 is probably not the best idea in the world, but when you're in your 20s and your liver can still handle stuff like that, it seemed heavenly.
But for the last few years, the bottomless mimosa has faced a number of legal challenges in North Carolina and other states. Detractors argue that it violates a state law against selling more than one drink to a single patron for a single price.
The bottomless mimosa still technically exists, promoted only through word of mouth and clever renames. But sending this popular promotion into the prohibition era has definitely weakened our city's brunch scene.
2. Leasing costs
As renting space becomes more expensive in Charlotte, a restaurant that closes at 3 PM looks less viable.
Food halls can help remedy this. The Yolk in 7th Street Market is an example of that. They probably wouldn't survive flying solo, but proximity to Not Just Coffee and the light rail make the business prospects a lot more fertile.
I'm surprised the brilliant minds at Optimist Hall haven't rolled out a dedicated brunch counter yet. I'll bet money it happens in 2020.
3. Hybrids are king
As I wrote in our Extra Sauce newsletter, hybrids are king. The more things you can do, the more people you can appeal to. You don't have to do each of them well, but if you do them well enough, you can snatch customers from other more narrow concepts.
The proliferation of the brewery brunch is an example of this. Two of the best brunches in Charlotte are in breweries: Heist and Suffolk Punch.
Bottle shops also steal brunch's thunder, from Rhino Market to Lincoln's Haberdashery.
How does a space that only does brunch compete with that?
4. Health trends
Two major hits to brunch have been the rise of low carb keto diets and meal-skipping intermittent fasting. For keto, avoiding carbs and sugar means no biscuits, no waffles, no pancakes, and no mimosas. Intermittent fasters typically skip all meals until dinner, long after brunch spots would have closed.
You could argue about the long-term effects of these diets all day, but their popularity among their fans is undeniable.
Diet trends tend to swing on a pendulum every few years. Keto is just another form of Atkins, which waxed and waned in 2004. It's possible brunch bounces back when new diet trends shift.
It's summer 2013, a Saturday.
You're sitting with your friends on the patio of Zada Janes. The food is taking forever, but you haven't noticed. You're all in Oakley sunglasses. You Facebook stalk the people you met out the night before, because Tinder hasn't rolled out in Charlotte yet.
It's warm out. You're happy.
What we lose when we lose a restaurant vertical is more than the food or the location. It's memories and culture. Yes, brunch still exists, but it's as a value-add for millionaire restaurant groups. Brunch as the hipster watering hole is possibly nearing its last days. It's becoming another example of cultural cannibalism, wherein growth and popularity among the in-the-know crowd pushes something cool toward a sort of common basicness.
Remember when chicken and waffles was, like, weird?