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September 29, 2020
Enjoy takeout at one of Thomas Avenue’s new picnic tables
During the Covid-19 pandemic, outdoor seating has become in high demand among diners who want to enjoy restaurant meals but feel uncomfortable in dining rooms. The city loosened its regulations around outdoor seating, allowing restaurants to expand into parking spaces as a way to enable larger seating capacity while safely distancing customers. In Plaza Midwood, the neighborhood association is teaming up with the neighborhood merchant’s association to help restaurants take advantage of this by creating the outdoor dining rooms for them.
The Thomas StrEATery is stretched along Thomas Avenue between Central and Commonwealth Avenues, a street that’s home to Dish, N.C. Red, and Pizza Peel, among other restaurants. Picnic tables in former parking spaces are separated from the street with wooden shipping pallets and greenery, and bright umbrellas and string lights bring personality to the seating.
The tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Visitors can order takeout from their favorite nearby restaurant and bring it to the StrEATery, though delivery directly to the tables is in the works. There is also a delivery drop off point for those who wish to order from a restaurant outside of the Thomas Avenue corridor.
Bruce Moffett, owner of fried chicken and seafood spot N.C. Red in the former Penguin space, says they’ve had folks walk up to their takeout window and order soft-serve to eat at the picnic tables. They also have had groups order takeout and sit outside when there aren’t any tables available in the restaurant. According to Moffett, the numbers haven’t been huge, but the extra tables are certainly a boost to the bottom line.
Restaurants are able to sell you bottles of beer or wine unopened, and you’re welcome to bring your own unopened containers. They must, however, be finished before leaving the seating area. Lewis Donald, operating partner of Dish, says they’re working on expanding their ABC permit to be able to sell drinks to guests and offer full service in the space.
“I think it’s awesome,” he says of the StrEATery. “I’m really glad the neighborhood put this together for us. I think it will and has made a big difference.”
Renee Bradley, the Stroll and Roll Plaza Midwood chairperson, was instrumental in getting the StrEATery set up. Her organization champions a more pedestrian-friendly Plaza Midwood, and the idea of more outdoor dining space has been something the group was eying for a while. The increased desire for it during Covid-19, paired with an investment from the City of Charlotte and need to support local businesses allowed it to finally take place.
“The idea is a food court approach, where people could just get takeout and bring it to the tables wherever they want,” Bradley says. “It’s a way to encourage people to come out to eat and to spend their money at the restaurants here locally.”
The seating is currently self-serve, and you’re asked to clean up your table when you’re done eating. Employees at Dish and Pizza Peel have also been employed to check on the tables, Bradley says. They’re currently working on additional programming, such as live music, art, and a possible closure of the entire street on weekends.
“We’re definitely evolving,” Bradley says. “There’s a few parking spots that we left out there for now, but as it evolves and the tables get full, we may add more tables.”
See all of the official participating restaurants on the Thomas StrEATery page.