Jun 20, 2023 - Business

Scoop: Bulldog Taproom/Social is expanding into NoDa

Bulldog Taproom/Social, a popular hangout that’s evolved over the years from a college town bottle shop to a South End nightlife destination, will enter a new chapter soon — in NoDa.

What’s happening: Bulldog owner Rob Johnson purchased the Room & Board business in NoDa last week for an undisclosed amount. Over the next month or so, he’ll begin rebranding the bar and restaurant at 36th and North Davidson. Its new name: Bulldog Taproom/Social NoDa.

  • Another big update for the company: Bulldog in South End will close at the end of July and open in a new two-story space at the new Centro Square building at 222 West Blvd. in August.

Why it matters: Bulldog opened in South End eight years ago — making it a relatively longstanding business in a rapidly changing neighborhood. Purchasing Room & Board means Johnson can expand the popular brand into another one of Charlotte’s fast-growing neighborhoods.

Bulldog is a laid-back, unpretentious South End spot. Lots of beer, dart boards, flat-screen TVs, whiskey barrel-style tables packed with patrons. The model has worked well for Johnson, he tells Axios.

  • “I’ve got this down to a science and I’m ready for a new challenge. There’s an opportunity for some other stuff … to keep me busy these next 10 years,” says Johnson, 52, a Charlotte native and East Meck graduate. “We’re going to take what we did in South End and bring it to NoDa.”
bar area bulldog beer wine south end
Bulldog Beer & Wine in December 2015. Photo: Axios archives

Details: One of the biggest things Johnson will be changing at Room & Board — besides its name and brand — is its beer offerings. Johnson says the plan is to overhaul the draft system in order to offer more draft beers at the new Bulldog soon. Currently, Room & Board’s draft menu is limited.

  • Other aspects of the operation that’ll change: the menu, hours of operation and entertainment options.
  • Johnson doesn’t know exactly what he’ll be changing about the menu, however. Room & Board is known for its Detroit-style square pizzas.
  • Johnson has renewed the business lease for another 10 years, with an option to purchase the building eventually.

At Bulldog’s new South End location, customers can expect:

  • A kitchen, unlike at the current Winnifred spot. It will serve flatbreads, beer pretzels, grilled cheese, paninis and other things you’d see on a food truck, Johnson says.
  • It will also have a nano-brewing system enabling Bulldog to brew three different beers at a time.
  • Eventually, Johnson hopes to serve coffee and be open in the morning.
  • Because it’ll serve food, the new Bulldog will not be dog-friendly.

Yes, welcoming dogs was a longtime feature of the old Bulldog spot. But Johnson says this change is worth it. “One thing I hated hearing over the years was ‘Hey man, I’m hungry, let’s get out of here.’ I want people to stay for a four-hour football game,” he says.

Flashback: Johnson opened the first Bulldog in Boone in 2008 and operated there for five years. In 2012, he opened his first Charlotte location on Park Road, then a few years later rebranded it as a private club serving cocktails in addition to beer and wine. The South End Bulldog opened in 2015. Johnson sold the Park Road location in early 2022.

Over the years, the NoDa spot Bulldog is taking over has been home to several restaurants, including Revolution Ale House and Mellow Mushroom. Right before the pandemic, in late 2019, brothers Justin and Jamie Sprowles opened Room & Board there.

The Sprowles brothers, also owners of Bradshaw Social House in Ballantyne and part-owners of Caswell Station, decided to sell to spend more time with family, Justin Sprowles tells Axios. It was important to them to hand the business over to another native Charlottean — someone they’ve known for a while and someone who knows the city.

  • “Rob coming around was good timing for us,” Justin says, adding that his family will be cheering Johnson’s team on from afar.

“The goal will be to … take the good they’ve done take the good we do and morph them together, turn two great things into one fantastic thing,” Johnson says.

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