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June 29, 2023

History inspiring new beginnings

Why the Tonidandel-Brown Restaurant Group seeks out the “beautiful secrets” of old buildings

by Jamie Brown
co-owner of Tonidandel-Brown Restaurant Group (Supperland, Ever Andalo, Haberdish, Growler’s Pourhouse)

Nationally-recognized restaurant Supperland in Plaza Midwood was inspired in part by the old building that houses it. Photo by Kenty Chung

Nationally-recognized restaurant Supperland in Plaza Midwood was inspired in part by the old building that houses it. Photo by Kenty Chung

Editor’s note: This story is part of a guest series featuring industry professionals around Charlotte penning opinion pieces on subjects close to them.

The joy of saving old buildings has become a part of our evolved dream as restaurant owners. Beyond programs like our karma cocktails, sandwich making for Roof Above, and continually striving toward living wages, repurposing structures now plays a part in what we want to give back to the community.

All of our concepts are in formerly-occupied spots. Haberdish resides in the once general store of the NoDa mill town. The block with Ever Andalo, Growlers Pourhouse, and Reigning Doughnuts had served a variety of businesses from furniture stores to retail shops to pool halls and a linen company. We even repurposed one of our own spaces by turning a back closet of Growlers Pourhouse into our 80-square-foot walk-up window doughnut shop, Reigning Doughnuts. Supperland was a former church for multiple congregations before it served as a frame shop, art gallery, and bead store. These stories add richness and depth to our concepts.

Jamie Brown

Jamie Brown, who owns Supperland, Haberdish, Growlers, and Ever Andalo with her husband, Jeff Tonidandel. Photo courtesy

There’s no question there are challenges with old spaces, though. You cannot dictate the restaurant’s layout — you have to work with what you’ve got. As you begin the demo process, you’re continuously uncovering new problems from rot, corrosion, lackluster piping, and out-of-code architecture. Lastly, if the space itself serves as a large element of your brand, it can be difficult to expand to multiple locations — which is how many restaurateurs grow their business.

But we find a lot of benefits to taking on the challenges.

Jeff and I love envisioning the potential of a space — imagining what could come to life in a building that is worn down, tired, and uncared for. Utilizing re-used buildings is like reaching into your pantry and creating a beautiful meal from what you have. It’s revitalization from decay.

Also, old spaces can give a starting point for a brand. Historical influences can thread into the concept through decor decisions, type of cuisine, service style, table top, and even smaller touches like apron selections or cocktail names. With preservation, we’re never starting from scratch.

The surprises you uncover in a repurposed place can often be beneficial. The walls at Supperland, for example, are just the remnants from what was under the dry wall when it was removed. They’re raw and lovely. In any old space, beautiful secrets lurk.

Old buildings also have an inherent unseen asset: they give you a setting that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world. That piece allows you to build on the local fabric not just of the food scene, but also in terms of preserving architecture in more mature neighborhoods.

Existing structures are inherently less intrusive to a neighborhood. Uniquely in Charlotte, we have dozens of quaint neighborhoods that dot our city. Architecture is a big part of what makes these areas so special — whether it’s the precious bungalows of Elizabeth, the large churches of Myers Park, the mill town remnants of NoDa, or the quaint storefronts on the streets of Cherry or Wilmore.

Our current project is our oldest to date: Leluia Hall will open in the former Bonterra space at 1829 Cleveland Avenue in historic Dilworth. The structure was a former church built in 1915 in Dilworth’s heyday as Charlotte’s first street car suburb.

There are a lot of challenges with this space, but we’ve recently upped the ante. Pending city approval, we will physically move a historic landmark on South Boulevard — the Leeper-Wyatt building — to our parking lot at Leluia Hall. Constructed in 1903, the Leeper-Wyatt structure is the oldest standing retail brick commercial building in South End. Our goal is to move it before construction on a 30+ story apartment begins on its current lot. We’ll lose our very valuable parking lot at Leluia Hall, but in exchange, the community will get to hold onto this landmark.

We’re inspired by Charlotte’s growth. People are coming here. We now have a lot of shiny concepts from “big” cities, we have new corporations flocking here, and there’s a lot of fresh-faced talent now calling our city home. However, there are also a lot of treasures hiding as old churches, retail shops, former studios, grocers, and general stores… they’re cracked and dingy and worn, but those pieces hold one of the keys to how we can build Charlotte into a character-ridden city that is teaming with culture, uniqueness, and intentionality.

The money always matters. We are responsible for 220 (and growing) jobs and creating a pipeline of growth for these teammates. Our businesses will crumble if money isn’t on our mind. But besides the benefits listed above of working with old or historic structures, maybe there’s also a monetary value of “joy.” This city is open to revitalizing through re-use and with that support, entrepreneurs like Jeff and I are in position to joyfully lean into this unique layer of our business — getting to create new, profitable concepts in restored old spaces.

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