June 15, 2024

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Charlotte’s food scene: Will COVID-19 destroy or enhance it?

But out of those ashes, almost as many new restaurants have opened or are about to open.

Williams said he gets calls daily from people looking to open restaurants. He believes the restaurant scene is going to be just fine, in part because Charlotte is still a growing city and because the pandemic has made residents appreciate the atmosphere a restaurant provides.

“We’re communal people, and people are gonna want to get out and back to their normal routines,” Williams said.

Paul Verica is the acclaimed chef and owner of The Stanley in the Elizabeth neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina, and he has been working for the last year to open his next restaurant, Orto NoDa. The restaurant will serve Italian cuisine with “a big emphasis on homemade pasta and pizza,” Verica explained. It’s even going to feature an upside-down pizza with toppings on the bottom and the sauce on top.

Now expected to open this February, Verica was actually in Italy doing research and development for Orto NoDa in February 2020 when the pandemic started to take hold over there. 

“My fiancé is a pulmonologist, and she started reading her email and got us out of there,” Verica recalled. 

Right after they got back from Genoa on Feb. 15, America stopped allowing travelers from Italy. They’ve been struggling ever since to stay on track with the restaurant opening.

“It’s been a tough time to open a restaurant. Any time is a tough time to open a restaurant, but the last 11 months have been a little more trying than normal,” Verica shared with WCNC Charlotte. “It’s been an all-around stressful, difficult time, permitting delays, ran into normal construction delays, it’s been really difficult to build our management team.”

Verica said finding a good staff was more difficult than he expected, too.

“I think people are a little hesitant, especially those getting extra unemployment if they can hang out and get by,” Verica admitted. “I think some people have moved and left the city, and some have gotten out of the industry. The industry has been so decimated by this whole thing.”

Verica said it’s been “beyond stressful.” 

“I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel; [we] have to keep pushing through,” Verica said.

Verica thinks it’s crucial to keep pushing forward because he believes in his project. 

“We believe in the site we chose, the concept, and I’m a lifer,” Verica shared. “I’ve been doing this close to 30 years, and it’s always been my dream to have my own restaurants. We were supposed to have this open 6 months ago and just to keep pushing and finally seeing it come to life, it’s like I’m living a dream, some days it’s a nightmare and some days a dream we’ve gotta keep pushing.”