Feb 24, 2016 - Food and Drink

Will Charlotte’s hottest restaurant of 2016 be at the bottom of a hotel?


Photo via Facebook

Restaurants are popping up like wildfire throughout Charlotte and I know I couldn’t be happier. My only real dilemma is when it comes time to write about them. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to set each place apart so imagine the challenge a hotel must have.

The Charlotte Marriott Center City is going through a game changing (and company changing — seriously, this will be a gold standard for all Marriotts going forward) renovation, and the focal point of that renovation is the ground floor.

Photo via Facebook

Yes, the rooms are amazing, the fitness center is amazing and the meeting rooms are amazing, but what really hits the home run will be the ground floor.

This is where locals and hotel guests will be able to co-exist and share the facility.

Hotel restaurants and bars carry the negative connotation that they only serve a simple purpose. No flash, no pizzazz and generally no care for the surrounding area. Marriott is looking to shift that perception into something that is a statement.

So how do they go about doing that? Bringing in a James Beard Award-winning chef is a good start.

Enter: RJ Cooper, a chef who has spent the last seven years in Washington D.C. and is behind well known Rogue24 and GypsySoul.

Photo via Facebook

I had a few initial perceptions of Chef Cooper before sitting down with him and I felt like we would click.

I had a feeling he was straightforward, not afraid to pull punches and perhaps brash at times, which sometimes gets him in trouble (I can relate, I am the same way). Much to my relief I was pretty spot-on. Sitting with Chef Cooper, I didn’t want to get the formula. I didn’t want to hear “farm to table” or “chic” or “upscale” but wanted to hear what is going to make this place tick.

First thing he said to me? “It’s not a hotel restaurant.” It seems more like: restaurant (and coffee shop) is the ground floor and the hotel just happens to be on top of it.

You’re not going to feel like you’re in a Marriott.

What really struck me was I got a real sense of what the place is going to be like without much information from the chef. I didn’t get menu items, I didn’t get décor choices, hell, I didn’t even get a name. But what I did get is Chef Cooper’s passion and drive. He told me how he “immersed [himself] in the food ways of the local area” going all over the Carolinas to determine the balance of flavors.

He told me about the “personality” philosophy he has toward his restaurants and how he plans to implement a level of creativity based on respect of the craft.

He doesn’t just want you to come in, read a menu, eat, pay and leave. He wants you to have an experience with the food as the structure.

His plan is to develop a “localized pantry” down to the flour being used. I was really struck by his continued emphasis on the respect he and his staff will have for the craft and vision. Respect of the product, respect of the producer and respect of the consumer. All are needed to produce a quality restaurant that will stand out from the rest.

What has me most excited about this project is really the mystery behind it. I know virtually nothing and that was after an hour talking with Chef Cooper, and that’s so intriguing to me. What I know is there is an immense passion to give Charlotte a restaurant for the future.

However, after all this I can say: talk is cheap and I expect results and results. We’ll see in late 2016.

Cover image via Facebook


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