One of Charlotte’s most well-known restaurants, Carpe Diem, this week announced it’s closing permanently after 30 years and blamed the decision on the coronavirus. One of the owners said in a statement the restaurant lost a lot of money during the shutdown and that reopening would be a “big financial investment that would likely lose.” Last week, the uptown barbecue restaurant Queen City Q announced its closing, citing the coronavirus, the ongoing protests and a stripped-down Republican National Convention.
Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter joins us to talk about those developments and other news for our segment BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, with all of these challenges going on right now, are we likely to see more restaurants making similar announcements? What are you hearing?
Tony Mecia: I think we will see more restaurants make these kinds of announcements, Marshall, and it's been a very difficult time for restaurants that have very little income, very little revenue coming in, and some have converted to takeout, but they're not really bringing in money anywhere close to what they were previously. Restaurants out of all industries tend to have the smallest amount of cash cushion available to them. So if you say, "OK, you're going to have to do without a bunch of revenue for a period of months," that can be very challenging.
In the case of Carpe Diem, it was a matter where their lease was coming up for renewal. They saw the revenue they have coming is not really going to be where it was before and they just made the decision not to renew the lease. I think you're going to see that a lot, especially with restaurants that have their leases coming up, maybe making a decision, "Well, do we really? The future is uncertain, and so maybe we're not going to press forward." So, I think we'll see additional restaurants making these kind of moves. Even in good times, you see restaurants go away for various reasons, but I think the coronavirus has certainly amplified that.
Terry: Are restaurants in uptown having an even harder time because of everything that's going on recently?
Mecia: I think so, maybe. It might be a little more indirect than that in the sense that it's a little bit unclear when workers are going to start returning uptown to all these office buildings. I mean, you have a bunch of restaurants uptown that do a pretty good lunch business, for example. But if you don't have the office workers returning to keep those restaurants going, I think it's just going to be amplified. So, I think maybe indirectly, the protests could have that sort of an effect if companies pull back and say, "Why don't we just not put our workers back into uptown for a little bit longer?"
Terry: The Panthers, Hornets and Charlotte Knights over the weekend all sever ties with local security company CPI after its CEO, Ken Gill, made comments about the ongoing protests that many viewed as offensive. The YMCA and Bojangles' then followed suit. Tony, is there's still more fallout for CPI to come?
Mecia: I think there probably is. CEO Ken Gill had come out and said in a private email to a member of an activist group, he said he thought that rather than focusing on police brutality, a better focus would be to focus on black-on-black crime and young men killing young men. This got blown up into a huge thing on social media, and you've seen all of these companies sort of staying away from CPI. It's a little bit unusual in the sense that usually boycotts hurt the company financially. In this case, it's basically these sports teams saying, "We're not going to take your money."
So now CPI basically is not going to have to spend all that money, but they're probably losing some money on canceled security systems and that sort of thing. Ken Gill, the CEO, is known as a philanthropist. He had donated $3 million to the YMCA, which was going to name its Steele Creek facility after him. But the YMCA now has pulled back and said, "We're not going to do that" and offered to give him his $3 million back. You know, he's on the local police foundation board. He's pretty involved civically. Gill did apologize. He said he's going to take a more active role in listening to customers and employees, so I think they have some work to do as far as repairing some of the relationships that they have that seem like they were broken because of his comments.
Terry: Charlotte City Council this week approved a huge redevelopment project in Ballantyne that's being dubbed Ballantyne Reimagined. Now, this is something we've talked about in the past, but it's been a while now. So remind us: What is it, exactly?
Mecia: Sure. It's been going on for about the last year or so. A developer named Northwood Office, which owns the Ballantyne Corporate Park and the Ballantyne Hotel, had proposed a couple thousand apartments, retail, restaurants, an amphitheater, greenspace, sort of a city center-type of layout. A lot of neighbors are concerned about what's it going to do to traffic? What's it going to do to schools that are already overcrowded in that area? So, you know, they're working through some of those issues. It's not going to be entirely built out for maybe a decade or so, I would say, Marshall. But, you know, I would think you might see construction start, you know, in the next maybe six months or so, something like that.
Terry: Last week, we talked about your profile of former Charlotte tourism leader Tim Newman, who was an influential uptown figure but later resigned amid criticism and then got in trouble with the law several times. What was Newman's response to your article?
Mecia: The story had said that over the last number of months, Marshall, that Newman had been sought by several law enforcement agencies in North and South Carolina for things like violating probation related to a domestic violence incident, and then more recently, he had threatened to blow up a dam and threatened a couple of sheriff's deputies.
He called me from jail on Friday and said that actually he liked the article. He thanked me for getting his point of view across. He had a minor clarification that he wanted made regarding a source of funds to the autism organization that he runs that he said maybe we weren't exactly clear about. But he said overall, you know, he said he was OK with it. I don't get a lot of calls from jail, Marshall, but anyway, that's what Newman had to say.
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