Apr 19, 2023 - News

50+ Generation Xers shaping Charlotte today

Jermaine (left) and Damian Johnson, No Grease

No Grease owners Jermaine (left) and Damian Johnson. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

Millennials still command Charlotte’s love and attention.

But the generations that preceded them did most of the work to help build this city of millennial dreams. And the generation coming behind millennials, Gen Z, is key to ensuring Charlotte feels young.

Driving the news (sort of): Last summer, I asked readers to nominate Gen Xers shaping our city. We got a ton of nominations.

Why it matters: For a generation that relishes in being overlooked, Generation X has a lot of horsepower in our city. The people on this list, born between 1965 and 1980, are driving our food scene, leading billion-dollar businesses, and still setting style trends.

  • On top of that, they are having a moment culturally: 1990s music is the most popular music in modern America, according to a July 2022 story from Axios’ Emily Peck, citing data from Luminate.

State of play: Folks in Generation X are all now circling 50, their lives a collection of Polaroid prints, disposable camera snapshots and smartphone files.

  • They remember when prank calls were good-hearted, when Grandmama was the portrait of Charlotte youth, and Nirvana T-shirts weren’t throwbacks.

Now, here’s to the Gen Xers on this list. And to those I forgot, I have faith that, of all the people of all the generations in all the history of the world, you are the most likely to not give a damn. In fact, congratulations on being left out!

  • Read on or whatever.

Manolo Betancur

Why him: Hard to find someone with a bigger heart for community than the Central Avenue bakery owner. The 46-year-old Colombia native has been serving up sweets for more than two decades, first under the name Las Delicias Bakery before renaming it Manolo’s when he took full ownership in 2018.

Manolo Betancur Manolo's Bakery
Manolo Betancur at his Central Avenue Bakery. Photo: Courtesy of Joshua Komer
  • He makes regular trips to the mountains to feed migrant workers during pumpkin and Christmas tree harvest season, and he’s traveled to Poland and Ukraine on humanitarian trips since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Muggsy Bogues

Why him: Muggsy was born in January 1965, which puts him just on this side of the fence from Baby Boomers. He belongs here.

Muggsy Bogues standing next to a bobblehead of Muggsy Bogues
Muggsy Bogues standing next to a bobblehead of Muggsy Bogues in December 2018. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios
  • The original Charlotte Hornets defined sports fashion in the late 1980s and early 1990s (gotta love those Starter jackets) and Muggsy defined that team’s spirit.
  • The 5-foot-3 point guard remains one of the most important athletes in our city’s history, remembered as much for his work in the community as his height. He made regular appearances in elementary and middle schools, and continues to devote his free time to youth through his Muggsy Bogues Family Foundation.

My thought bubble: I got to spend about three months with Muggsy and his brother Chuckie in 2018 for an ESPN story that revealed another level to the NBA star’s generosity.

Amy Hawn Nelson

Why her: A 1997 South Mecklenburg High graduate who works for the University of Pennsylvania’s School of social Policy and Practice, Hawn Nelson’s on the young side for Generation X and might even fall into the weird space of “Xennial.” But we’re putting her on this list for several reasons:

  • She got multiple nominations from readers.
  • More than that, she’s a fierce advocate for public schools and breaking up segregation patterns in our classrooms. In a world of emotional conversations about how we’re educating the next generation, Hawn Nelson, who has a PhD, is a data shark who brings statistics to show how diverse public schools create better outcomes for all.
  • She is, “in general a friggin bad ass,” says reader Janet C.

The Johnson Brothers of No Grease!

Why them: Damien and Jermaine Johnson celebrated the 25th year of their impressive No Grease! barbershop franchise in 2022.

  • They now have 13 locations, some of which they own and some of which are franchisee-owned. And their barber school continues to teach young people not only how to cut hair, but how to be entrepreneurs themselves.
Damien and Jermaine Johnson of No Grease barbershop
No Grease owners Jermaine (left) and Damian Johnson. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

Dianne Chipps Bailey

Why her: She’s an “unapologetic optimist,” and who couldn’t use a little more of that these days?

Bailey, who has a law degree from Georgetown, has spent much of the past quarter-century boosting nonprofits in the Charlotte region and beyond. She’s technically Bank of America’s managing director and national philanthropic strategy executive for philanthropic solutions.

Dianne Chipps Bailey
Dianne Chipps Bailey. Photo: Courtesy of Bank of America
  • But her reach goes beyond any title: She’s helped countless people — from nonprofit founders to politicians — channel their desire to do something good for our city.

Mike Praeger

Why him: He’s the CEO of AvidXchange, perhaps Charlotte’s most successful startup story.

Why’s that matter? Praeger and his fellow founders let this city know that the next great thing can grow here. They’ve created a culture of ideas and innovation around a relatively simple business that helps companies automate their accounts payable processes.

  • And I love this quote, from Kevin L., one of several people who nominated Praeger: “All-in-all, standup Charlottean, and may be the coolest Gen Xer around. No cap, just fax (Gen Z pun about Gen X? Did I just open a wormhole?)”
Mike Praeger. Courtesy of AvidXchange

Tonya Jameson

Why Tonya: Jameson’s career cup is full. Longtime residents will remember her as the former Charlotte Observer reporter and award-winning columnist who wrote, among many other things from 1994 to 2009, the wildly popular Paid to Party column. Then she stepped into politics, working behind the scenes to get some of the city’s most notable officials elected. Now she’s the chair of Charlotte’s Citizens Review Board, which rules on complaints against police, and she’s a senior manager for policy and community advocacy for Leading on Opportunity.

What they’re saying: “Tonya’s fingerprints are all over the city as she works tirelessly to ’empower the powerless and help Charlotte’s most vulnerable residents,'” said Kathleen Von Bergen, a Bank of America senior vice president.

Tonya Jameson
Tonya Jameson. Photo: Courtesy of Leading on Opportunity

Rick Thurmond

Why him: My personal favorite, and a moment of editor’s privilege. Rick’s the senior chief marketing officer for Center City Partners. He’s also a terrific dad. Has good taste in music. Is an underrated writer. And despite his low-key demeanor, his give-a-damn meter always runs full.

  • He also happened to be the longtime editor and publisher of Charlotte magazine who hired me and brought me to Charlotte in 2013, and that remains one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Thanks, Rick.

Ric Elias

Why him: In terms of wealth, power and influence, nobody in town rivals Elias.

  • In a city that celebrates business, the Red Ventures CEO is easily one of the most successful, having built what the New York Times called “the biggest digital media company you’ve never heard of,” worth more than $11 billion conservatively.
  • In a city that celebrates philanthropy, he’s one of the most philanthropic. He and his wife, Brenda, in 2021 signed the Giving Pledge, committing to giving away half of their wealth.
Ric Elias
Ric Elias. Photo: Courtesy Red Ventures
  • And in a city where public officials often bicker in public, Elias, 55, is a quiet and even-tempered adviser to many of our elected and appointed leaders.

Michael Brawley

Why him: He’s the Godfather of Charlotte craft beer. Back in 2003, when Brawley opened a craft beer store on Park Road in the same building where his dad used to run Mike’s Discount Beverage, Charlotte was known for “regular beer and light beer,” reader Clark B. writes.

  • In 2014, Brawley added tap lines and turned a store into one of the friendliest gathering spots in town.

Steve Hood

Why him: Steve’s a Charlotte native and UNC Charlotte grad who’s helped NoDa maintain its character. He purchased the buildings that house Jack Beagle’s, Haberdish and Roy’s Kitchen, then refurbished them to give them a chance to stand as small businesses instead of becoming apartments like so many other pieces of property in the neighborhood.

  • Fun fact: He and his business partner just purchased the building that houses Alexander Michael’s in Fourth Ward, mostly because he doesn’t want another icon to disappear.
Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Jamie Brown and Jeff Tonidandel

Why them: Speaking of Haberdish, Brown and Tonidandel own that. And Growlers. And Ever Andalo (formerly Crepe Cellar). And Supperland. And soon the couple will open Leluia Hall in the old Bonterra building in Dilworth.

  • They’ve navigated Charlotte’s restaurant scene through the fallout of the 2008 recession, when they opened Crepe Cellar, and the pandemic, and now with more than 150 employees, they’re easily among the most successful restaurateurs in Charlotte.
Steve Hood
Steve Hood. Photo: Courtesy of Susie Hood
  • On top of that, they celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary in January, and still smile about their lives merging marriage and business.

Dianna Ward

Why her: The longtime executive director of Charlotte’s bike share program (now called Charlotte Joy Rides) Ward in 2019 spun up something even bigger: She formed the development firm Sankofa Partners and purchased 1800 Rozzelles Ferry Road.

Jamie Brown and Jeff Tonidandel
Jamie Brown and Jeff Tonidandel. Photos: Michael Graff/Axios
  • So what, you might say? A developer bought a property? Yes, but this property is a strip of small businesses at Five Points in west Charlotte just across from Johnson C. Smith, a central point for the city’s Black history.
  • Senkofa renovated the building and moved in three businesses in the past couple of years — Jet’s Pizza, Rita’s Italian Ice, and Premier Pharmacy and Wellness — all of which are owned by people of color.

Kristen Miranda

Why her: Go anywhere with Kristen — from Plaza Midwood to Ballantyne to the outer suburbs to, heck, even places like Salisbury — and someone is guaranteed to stop her and tell her how much they love her.

  • The easy-going, energetic WBTV personality can seamlessly shift from lighthearted stories making cookies and ice cream in the kitchen, to serious matters like crime and politics, and never lose a viewer.

Zack Luttrell

Dianna Ward Charlotte Joy Rides
Dianna Ward runs Charlotte Joy Rides, and she also started up a development firm that’s helping transform parts of west Charlotte. Photo: Courtesy of Center City Partners

Why him: Being a Charlotte professional sports fan can be painful. But Luttrell, the co-founder of fan clubs Roaring Riot (Panthers) and Mint City Collective (Charlotte FC), has given supporters a place to celebrate and wallow among familiar company.

  • His organizations do more than sling beers, though: The Roaring Riot Foundation raises money to help give young and in-need fans the chance to take in the Panthers on the road. The foundation, for instance, took Chancellor Lee Adams to London to see the Panthers in 2019.

Stephanie Stern Al-Zubaidy

Why her: A native Charlottean in her early 50s, Stephanie was one of the Charlotte Business Journal’s “40 under 40” award recipients in 2010.

Kristen Miranda headshot
Kristen Miranda. Photo: Courtesy of WBTV
  • A CPA who’s worked in finance for Ally and Novant, she co-founded a clinical research organization Catawba Research.

Keith Cradle

Why him: If you’ve lived in Charlotte over the past quarter-century, you’ve undoubtedly run into Cradle. He moved here in 1992 to attend Johnson C. Smith and has been one of the city’s key players ever since — from serving on boards of museums to building up education programs for juvenile offenders at the jail.

  • He’s also stylish as heck.
  • But Cradle’s latest venture, Camping with Cradle, is as much a calling as it is a service. Cradle, an avid outdoorsman who knows his way around an open flame, teaches young people life skills by taking them out camping and hiking — things they couldn’t do in the city.

Jennifer Moxley

Why her: A former WBTV reporter and the founder of Sunshine Media Network, Moxley made waves in summer 2022 when she exposed the difficulties of running for office as an unaffiliated voter.

  • State law requires an unaffiliated voters gather signatures from 1.5% of the registered voters in their districts. Moxley posted up at various locations throughout her district to try to rack up the 1,323 signatures she needed just to get on the ballot.

Meg McElwain

Photo: Alvin C. Jacobs, Jr.

Why her: In 2012, McElwain learned the devastating news that her three-month-old son, Mitchell, had a rare form of leukemia. She founded Mitchell’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports other families with chronically ill children.

  • Mitchell died in 2014, just after his second birthday. Meg still serves as executive director of Mitchell’s Fund, and in early 2022, the organization launched Mitchell’s House, a counseling center for children who have a life-threatening diagnosis and their siblings and parents.

Charles Thomas

Why him: A Charlotte native and proud East Mecklenburg High graduate, Thomas is the Knight Foundation director in Charlotte, providing grant funding to different projects throughout the city, specifically focusing on the Historic West End.

Christine Reed Davis

Why her: Davis is the associate vice chancellor and dean of students at UNC Charlotte, leading more than 40 staff members and 100 undergrad and grad students. Her teams oversee everything from equity and engagement to veterans services, and she also chairs the university’s behavioral health and threat assessment team.

  • “She’s the face of student support” at UNC Charlotte, says Emily Wheeler, who works in the division of student affairs. “Plus, she’s just an amazing human.”
Meg McElwain and sons, Mitchell and Frank
Meg McElwain with her sons Frank and Mitchell. Photos: Courtesy of Meg McElwain, headshot by Kim Brattain Media.

Quentin Talley

Why him: Talley’s another one who falls somewhere between Gen X and millennial, but less murky is his influence Charlotte’s arts scene over the years. A creator of poetry and music and many other things, Talley started Charlotte’s first African-American theater company, OnQ Performing Arts, in 2006. He released a new EP this past summer, “Fall Thru.”

  • OnQ presented “Miles & Coltrane: Blue (.),” a look at the relationship between jazz legends Miles Davis and John Coltrane, at Booth Playhouse in April.
Charles Thomas. Photo: Alvin C. Jacobs Jr./courtesy of Knight Foundation

Matt Olin and Tim Miner, co-founders Charlotte is Creative

Why them: These guys. The energetic pair (have you ever seen Matt on stage?) have worked for years to raise the profile of creatives and civic leaders in Charlotte. Their Creative Mornings events, which featured speeches from prominent local leaders and artists, regularly booked full houses within minutes of tickets going on sale.

  • They were nominated by several people, but perhaps the best came from Matt’s wife, Sarah, who said of the pair: ‘[They] have been shaping Charlotte since Shaggy became Mr. Boombastic.”

Tony Mecia and Cristina Bolling

Why them: Mecia and Bolling, both former Charlotte Observer reporters, have created a genuine local media success story with the Charlotte Ledger, which turned four this spring.

  • The Ledger started as a business publication, but now has three other newsletter products covering Charlotte FC, transit and remembrances of notable citizens.
  • The paid subscribers to the flagship publication wake up four days a week to a dose of stories that nobody else is producing — from scoops on country clubs to overlooked angles on widely covered stories.
  • They’ve also pioneered the “40 over 40” awards, honoring people making a difference in our community.

And like any good Gen Xer, the Ledger soothes small frustrations with their generation’s favorite potion: a mixture of snark and chippiness.

Fabi Preslar, business owner

Why her: Preslar moved to Charlotte in the early 1980s when she was 17 years old. She had no car, no money and no friends here, she says. She worked multiple jobs to get started.

  • In the late 1990s, she founded SPARK Publications, an independent publisher of books and magazines. That firm will celebrate 25 years in business next year.

Laura Vinroot Poole

Why her: She’s an entrepreneur and style icon whose luxury boutique, Capitol, put Charlotte on the South’s fashion map 25 years ago.

  • But her legacy is larger than that: “If this was just going to be about clothes, it was going to be really boring for me,” she once told Adam Rhew, for this 2018 Charlotte magazine profile. “I realized I wanted to influence women. I wanted to create a place that matters. I want this little army of women that are kick-ass.”
  • That army now spans the globe. Take, for example, Wiggy Hindmarch, who founded the luxury women’s wear line Wiggy Kit in the U.K. in 2015. Hindmarch got her start by walking into Capitol about a year after it opened and asking Vinroot Poole if she had any work, as Garden & Gun recently noted.

Other nominees from readers…

Garrett Droege: Get this: Droege (est. 1979, as he puts it) was once an actor on shows “One Tree Hill” and “Dawson’s Creek” who’s now a father of two and the director of innovation and strategy for IMA Financial, the third largest privately-held insurance brokerage in the country.

Charles Rhyne: The Charlotte native and UNC Charlotte grad was a well known bartender around the city in his 20s and 30s. Then he switched to teaching, before going back to get his masters in counseling. Now he’s a psychotherapist and counselor who’s dedicated to mental health work — a natural extension of those old bartending days.

fabi preslar, spark publications
Photo: Courtesy of Fabi Preslar

Keith Alyea: He’s is the author of Gen X Chronicles, for heck’s sake. How could we not include him? The site and Instagram handle include a great many favorite memories for children of the 80s. Alyea, who works for Wells Fargo and whose community work includes helping raise money for LGBTQ+ rights and breast cancer services, turns his posts into life lessons. Check out this post about Donkey Kong, for instance.

Jill Marcus: The fun-loving restaurateur owns the Mother Earth Group, which includes Mariposa and Fern, two of Charlotte’s most interesting restaurants. She also founded Something Classic Catering in 1989. All that came after she was a tennis star, as friend Jen McGivney (also one helluva Gen Xer) wrote in this story.

Kathie Collins: She’s the co-founder and creative director of Charlotte Center for Literary Arts, or Charlotte Lit. Since 2015, her co-founder Paul Reali wrote in his nomination, Charlotte Lit has held hundreds of writing classes and literary arts events reaching thousands of area writers and lit lovers, and paying area teaching artists nearly $500,000. Kathie’s efforts have also brought to Charlotte many notable writers, including Terrance Hayes, Ron Rash, Ada Limón and Reginald Dwayne Betts.

Laura Vinroot Poole. Photo: Chris Edwards
Capitol, Capitol Brentwood and Poole Shop President Laura Vinroot Poole. Photo by Chris Edwards/Courtesy

Trey Wilson: He made his mark on the Charlotte food scene with Customshop, one of the city’s most consistently excellent restaurants. Wilson turned over majority ownership in Customshop last summer to Andres Kaifer, but Wilson continues to run Flour Shop, which was on our list of best restaurants in Charlotte again this past year.

Thomas Barnes: The CEO of Capital Partners, a private equity firm, bought Prince’s private estate in Turks and Caicos, and now rents it out for between $12,000 and $36,000 a night, the Ledger reported.

Amy Jacobs: The former executive director of SHARE Charlotte, Jacobs in 2021 became the chief opportunity officer for Common Wealth Charlotte, a nonprofit organization that provides financial literacy courses and helps put people on the path toward stronger credit scores.

HC Bell: A chef who’s taught classes with Sweet Spot Studio, Bell was nominated by Sweet Spot owner Joselyn Perlmutter, who says Bell is, “One of the most kindhearted people in the face of adversity, which he has faced on an awful level for his entire life. Watching him in a leadership role in my company, I am getting to see first hand the horrific racism he is faced every single day as a Black man in Charlotte.”

Scott Syfert: An attorney with Moore & Van Allen, Syfert is a history buff who wrote a book on the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. the much-debated document in which people of this county declared themselves free and independent from the British, one year before the more famous Declaration of Independence.

Chaz Hinkle: Hinkle moved to Charlotte in 1991 to work at NBC’s News Channel, then started his own web design firm, and now works at Duke Energy, according to a nomination from Melissa L.

  • His story follows a classic Gen X-in-Charlotte arc. He fell in love with the city in high school and lived in a once brand-new apartment complex on South Boulevard and progressively worked his way south to Providence Road and then Ballantyne to raise his kids, before moving back to Uptown in his mid-50s.
  • “He has been here so long he remembers a drive to the Arborteum that felt like a trip to the middle of South Carolina, it was so far out of town,” Melissa writes. “He has some stories he can tell. Like the old fart he has become.”

Josh Jacobson: The CEO of Next Stage, a consulting company that helps nonprofits, businesses and other organizations do work that betters the community, Jacobson is one of those people whose name seems to pop up in civic conversations all over the city, especially those involving the arts and culture.

  • He also worked as senior director of New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club and senior officer for research at The Julliard School.

Tom Lawrence: As president of the Leon Levine Foundation and CFO of the Levine family office, Lawrence helps direct numerous charitable efforts in the city. He’s also a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts and “smokes up a tasty pork shoulder,” says Christian B., who nominated Tom.

Jennifer Troyer: She’s the first female dean of UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business and a professor of economics and health economics researcher. As dean she’s helped grow the school to hit record enrollment numbers in recent years.

  • DYK: The Belk College of Business has more than 5,000 graduate and undergraduate students, according to UNC Charlotte senior director of executive communications Jay Davis, who nominated Troyer.

April Whitlock: Once a “40 under 40” selection from the Charlotte Business Journal, back in 2008, Whitlock is now the head of corporate citizenship at LendingTree, helping steer money toward nonprofits and philanthropy.

Kim Aprill: She’s co-founder and executive director of Feeding Charlotte, which “rescues” surplus freshly prepared meals and brings them to people in need — both reducing food waste and helping reduce hunger in the city.

Ray Dukes and Gloria Climes Dukes: The husband-and-wife duo have helped countless children on Charlotte’s west side get their start through two Bright Future Learning Centers and Bright Future Enrichment After School Center.

  • As Doneisha W. says: “Graduates of Johnson C. Smith University, this power couple has definitely made their mark on the Charlotte community and are THE GenXers to watch what comes next.”

Emily Harry, Heather Leavitt and Cat Long: They founded Baby Bundles after meeting through the most terrible of circumstances — they all had stillborn children. Now the organization provides necessities to mothers in need as they leave the hospital. They’ve delivered more than 10,000 bundles since 2010, says Paula Foust, the organization’s executive director.

Keith Luedeman, entrepreneur: Since selling his startup, GoodMortgage.com, in 2016, Leudeman has focused on growing the city’s startup scene, from working with Queens University to the Carolina Fintech Venture Fund.

  • “Keith is a loyal Clemson grad that made the brain gain possible,” says reader Jim R., who nominated Keith. “Keith makes it a point to SNEW, Something New Every Weekend — SNEW means to go to a new different restaurant every weekend to keep things fresh.”

Rob Butcher, CEO of Swim Across America: Butcher, who qualified for the Olympic trials in 2000, turned his love of swimming into a mission after his mother died from cancer in 2008. He took over as CEO of Swim Across America, a locally based nonprofit that hosts charity swims across the country for cancer research and clinical trials.

  • The organization has granted more than $100 million toward “breakthroughs in immunotherapy, gene therapy, personalized medicine and patient programs,” according to its website.

And, one of our favorite nominations…

Gen X Moms circa 1994-2000: Let’s let reader Anna O’Brien, who sent this one in, take us out:

  • “Women (like me) who moved to Charlotte from mostly Rust Belt states. We birthed and raised a generation of ‘new Southerners’ who have no dialectical speech pattern. We grew ‘mothers morning out’ church programs and youth athletics. We took neighborhood swim club meets to the next level.
  • “Sure, business leaders and assorted titans of industry shaped Charlotte and attracted newcomers to the area. But it’s the Gen X moms who built the family and social culture that is uniquely ‘Charlotte.'”
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