Original Owners Of Plaza Midwood's Dish Say Goodbye As Restaurant Cooks On
The original owners of Dish—a restaurant in Plaza Midwood known for its southern comfort cooking—are hanging up their aprons. Luckily for Charlotte, the 17-year-old restaurant is staying put with the same name and many of the same recipes, but under new ownership.
WFAE’s Sarah Delia sat down with two of the owners to talk food, the future, and what they’ll miss most about working and running a Charlotte staple.
Walk into Dish on Thomas Avenue in the heart of Plaza Midwood and its nothing but warm—yellow walls, funky art, and of course dishes hanging on the walls. Black and white checkered cloths cover tables and you can’t help but stare at the mouthwatering pies on the counter as you walk to your seat.
Usually there’s a crowd, waiting for a coveted booth by the windows—perfect for people watching. But right now it’s late afternoon, the calm before the dinner rush.
Penny Craver sits at one of those checkered cloth tables. She reflects on the restaurant’s cozy atmosphere. It’s set like a kitschy grandmother’s kitchen from the sunny décor to the food.
"My grandmother didn’t write a thing down and if I asked her she would say ‘salt till it taste right,’ you know, or ‘just a pinch’ or ‘you just do a little of this and a little that.’ So it was trying to create things that we grew up on," Craver said.
That "we" is in reference to Dish’s three owners—Penny Craver and Maggie and Lawrence Stubbs. The trio have known each other for decades. Their friendship stems from Charlotte’s music scene when Maggie says they worked together at the punk music venue the Milestone.
"We have known each other since myself and Penny were partners at Milestone in 1991 and Lawrence was the bartender, that’s the orginal partnership 1991," Stubbs said.
Music is Penny Craver’s first love, but food is a close second. A musician herself, Penny founded Tremont Music Hall, a beloved Charlotte music venue that closed several years ago due to development. She also worked at another music venue in the city, Amos’ Southend. But this second love of food has kept her interested for almost two decades. So much so, she would often find herself at Dish even when she didn’t need to be there.
"Sometimes it’s my day off and I go ‘oh gosh what do I want? I really just want vegetables. So I’m just going to go up to Dish and get some green beans and some carrots and some cabbage,’" Craver said.
As good as the food has been and as much as the trio will miss their staff and regulars, they’re in agreement—it’s time to clock out.
For Maggie and Lawrence Stubbs, that means keeping their Charlotte home but traveling—a lot. Colorado and Asia are at the top of their lists. Stubbs sweetly refers to everyone she meets at Dish as 'darlin’' partly because she meets so many people, it’s hard to keep track of names. Now she says, it’s time to meet the world’s darlins.
"Had a great 17 year run. We had phenomenal customers. I think we put out some darn good food, too. I want to make up for all the years I worked weekends. Had a hard time taking vacations. Now it’s time to play so I’m going to travel," Stubbs said.
Penny plans to retire early to the coast. She smiles when she talks about quitting her day job. "Stick a fork in me," she says, "I’m done."
"It’s just time. You kind of know its run its course with me and the other owners and I’m tired and I need to be able to not kill myself before I enjoy some form of retirement," Craver said with a laugh.
But none of the owners were willing to part ways with Dish unless they found the right folks to pass the spatula to. They believe they’ve found that in Lewis Donald of Sweet Lew’s BBQ. Craver expects he’ll want to make some changes. But she’s confident he wants to keep Dish, Dish. Part of that she says, is not taking shortcuts especially in the cooking. It’s down to the details even in the biscuits she says. Rather than butter all the biscuits at once, each biscuit at Dish is individually dressed right before it’s served. It takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it.
"You can’t do the short cut. That’s not the way my grandmother would have done it, it’s not the way any southern grandmother would have done it so we don’t take those types of short cuts. That’s the Dish way."
Not taking shortcuts has paid off. Over the last 17 years, Dish has seen neighbors come and go and new development take over. And even though Dish has survived, it’s still felt those growing pains especially when it comes to parking.
"This is probably not the neighborhood to allow this much growth. You just can’t allow that much growth in a short period of time and I think that is what has happened. If you plant too many flowers they just strangle each other and I definitely don’t want to see that."
Saturday will be the last official day for the original owners. Penny expects it to a day like any other, if not a little busier as folks come to say goodbye.
"We’ve had great locals and great customers who have become regulars so it will be good to see them. But I love Dish food, I’m not going to come back and not eat at Dish!" Craver said.
Customers who want to wish Penny, Maggie, and Lawrence a fond farewell may want to get there early. Penny says they’ll likely close a little early to have a party for the staff. Even though much of the staff are staying, it will be the last time for the original owners and their employees to break bread together.