Sep 5, 2023 - Food and Drink

South End loses a restaurant pioneer

A Charlotte restaurant visionary who taught South End to slurp, sip and sup has passed away.

Michael Shortino, 57, known for the ramen restaurant Futo Buta and the gourmet market Lincoln’s Haberdashery, died last week. Memorial plans are being made for his friends in the restaurant industry.

  • As news of his death spread Tuesday, his family released a statement that said, in part: “It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of chef Michael Shortino, the visionary chef and owner of Futo Buta and Lincoln’s Haberdashery in Charlotte … Chef Shortino’s inimitable style and magnetic soul will be deeply missed, but we will do our best to focus on the great things to come.”

Zoom out: The son of a three-generation Italian restaurant family in New York, Shortino’s first seafood restaurant led him to discover sushi and a lifelong love of what he called “the purity and focus of Japanese cooking.”

  • After spending 25 years in Arizona and L.A., he came to Charlotte in 2013 to oversee the opening of the Japanese restaurant and grill BAKU.
  • In 2015, Shortino opened Futo Buta (it means “fat pig”) in an almost hidden space in South End facing the light rail.

At the time, Ramen was so new in Charlotte that Observer restaurant reviewer Helen Schwab had to explain to readers what it was: “If all you’ve had is boil-water-add-ramen, believe me, you haven’t had ramen.”

What he’s saying: Charlotte restaurateur Bruce Moffett said Shortino was an innovator who made Japanese food approachable and pioneered the explosion of restaurants in South End, which had been a district mostly known for warehouses.

  • “When he opened on that part of South Boulevard, I thought he was insane,” Moffet said Tuesday. “He was pre-whatever happened in South End. He turned it into a powerhouse.”

In 2018, Shortino opened Lincoln’s Haberdashery, an eat-in/carry-out gourmet market with sandwiches, a bakery and coffee bar, wine and cool-to-kitschy gifts. Lincoln’s, in the Factory South complex where Shortino had a condo, shared kitchen space with Futo Buta.

  • At the time, Shortino said he wanted to build the kind of market he wanted in his neighborhood, where you could drop in at all hours and grab what you needed.

Why Lincoln? Shortino had a mischievous sense of humor, and always said he picked the name Lincoln’s Haberdashery because of a local legend – never proven – that claims Abraham Lincoln was born in Bostic, N.C., west of Charlotte, not in Kentucky, as the history books record.

What’s next: Both Futo Buta and Lincoln’s Haberdashery will remain open. Shortino’s daughter, Cassie Shortino, a chef and two-time James Beard semifinalist, plans to relocate to Charlotte to take over her father’s business.

  • Cassie now lives in Charlotte, but until recently was a chef in Phoenix, where she worked with renowned pizza chef Chris Bianco.
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