Beginning in mid-2007, the global economy began to collapse like a sand castle at high tide, unfolding from a U.S. housing-finance debacle into the worst recession in decades. In early 2008, longtime Creative Loafing food critic Tricia Childress wondered how the crisis might manifest itself on the Charlotte restaurant scene in the coming year.
"I predict more steak houses will open in Charlotte... With the national economy tanking, people won't eat out as frequently on their own tab. But as long as corporate expense accounts keep flourishing, large national corporate cattle emporiums such as Del Frisco's and Capital Grille will thrive."
What Childress didn't know early that year was that Wachovia — one of Charlotte's corporate mainstays — would be sold, and other corporate behemoths would dramatically downsize. When she reported back on what actually occurred during the first full year of economic crisis, Childress found that even the steak joints did badly.
"By Thanksgiving, companies started scrambling to survive," Childress wrote in her December 2008 year-end review. "Expense accounts were cut, and holiday parties were downscaled or scrapped altogether... Restaurants served fewer customers, and wine salespeople sold less wine."
Her prediction for '09? "Green — as in cost saving. The word among restaurateurs is they will have to work 'twice as hard for half the customers.' Here's my advice: If you have a favorite restaurant, visit it. Do not depend on others to keep the business alive through this economic downturn."
And where are we five years after the early rumblings of financial crisis began — and four years after the bottom fell out? There's hope. New eateries are popping up, from Pure Pizza's gourmet pies in the 7th Street Market to the stunning new-American eclectic vibe at 5Church in the downtown area.
Putting together this year's neighborhood guide has really made me appreciate how cool this city is.