FAQ City: What Is The Oldest Restaurant In Charlotte?
A listener asked what the longest-serving restaurant was in Charlotte. In this episode, we answer that question and look at the area's dining scene.
The oldest restaurant has seen Charlotte through the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11 and COVID-19.
What is the oldest restaurant in Charlotte?
That would be Green’s Lunch, located in uptown Charlotte. It opened in 1926.
What’s the story of Green’s Lunch?
Robert Green founded the restaurant in 1926.
“He only sold the hot dogs with mustard, ketchup and onions, potato chips and Coke bottles,” current owner Joanna Sikiotis said.
Green wanted to open a place that could serve people on their lunch breaks, especially those who worked in mills and manufacturing.
His son's wife helped run the restaurant, and Sikiotis says she developed its famous chili recipe. She took over the restaurant after a divorce settlement.
In the mid-1970s, Sikiotis’ family bought it. They made some changes, including adding more space and slightly changing up the menu.
“He added slaw to our hot dogs,” Sikiotis, who bought the restaurant in 1989, said of her father. “So, now the hot dogs are mustard, ketchup, chili, onions and slaw."
This combination is a hot dog "all the way."
What is an ‘all the way’ hot dog?
“If you go to Green's, and you asked for a hot dog all the way -- not with everything -- all the way, you get one with chili and coleslaw,” Tom Hanchett, a Charlotte historian, said. “Not every part of the United States has coleslaw on its hot dogs.”
Hanchett said the restaurant industry’s history ties into the city’s history, and each restaurant tells a story of how Charlotte developed.
What are some of the influences of Charlotte’s restaurants?
“The restaurant history here, a lot of it goes back to Greek immigrants who came around the turn of the last century, up through the middle of the 20th century and got into selling produce first and then got into restaurants,” said Hanchett. "So a lot of our oldest restaurants are Greek immigrant restaurants.”
But not all of those Greek immigrants opened up Greek restaurants.
Take the Open Kitchen, an Italian restaurant Christina Skiouris’ family opened and that she runs today.
“We're Greek. We are not Italian,” she said. “We are Greek from Greece. My grandparents, they say my grandmother was the first Greek woman in Charlotte.”
What’s the story of The Open Kitchen?
Skiouris' father was born in Charlotte but moved the family to Washington, D.C., for a stint. When they came back, her father and uncle opened Open Kitchen, which is still open today.
"When they opened in Charlotte, there was no Italian food -- no pizza, just Southern food," Skiouris said. "It's kind of amazing now because everybody thinks of pizza as just a staple. It's nothing exotic, but at the time in the early '50s, it was quite new, especially in Charlotte.”
Half of Open Kitchen's customers are regulars who have been coming to the restaurant for generations.
“We have two booths that are like these coveted positions to be seated. And (customers) just have to sit there because they dated there, and it would be the late '50s, early '60s. (Now), they're bringing their grandchildren. Their grandchildren are dating at the restaurant because they have grown up there.”
Is there a list of the longest-serving restaurants in Charlotte?
Food journalist Kathleen Purvis compiled one a few years back. Two have since closed — The Philadelphia Deli and Mr. K’s Soft Ice-Cream.
How has COVID-19 affected these businesses?
Like all restaurants, both Green’s Lunch and Open Kitchen have had to shift hours back and were required to halt in-person dining last spring.
Joanna Sikiotis said that because people who work in uptown, where the Green's Lunch is, are now working from home, there is an absence of a once-reliable lunch crowd.
Over at Open Kitchen, Christina Skiouris said the pandemic has not been easy.
“Well, we cried a little bit in the beginning, but we turned one room into a little factory," Skiouris said. "And that's where we put together bags, you know, for all the takeout. We did cut the staff down and cut people's hours. But everyone was there, nobody said, 'Oh, you know, I'm gonna quit.’ Everyone did what they could to help.”
Both restaurants still do takeout orders.
And because they have had such a faithful customer base — one that has been formed over generations — they have fared OK.
How can people support local and older restaurants?
By giving them business.
“We are starting to lose some of those older restaurants,” Purvis, the food journalist, said. “The thing I always remind people is these are small restaurants — they're family owned. If you want them around, you have to support them.
"Some beloved restaurant was closing, people would call up just, you know, all upset. And when we say, ‘Well, when is the last time you went there?’ And they'd say, ‘Oh, two years ago,’ or, ‘Gosh, haven't been there in years.’ Well, guess what? That's why it closed. You got to support what you want your city to have, or it won't be there."