In case you missed it, Topgolf is finally in serious talks on a Charlotte location after a few fits and starts at various locations. This is fantastic news for Charlotte, which is really starved for great daytime activities that aren’t weather and booze-dependent*. Plus, Topgolf is just a great concept and one that many major cities have. Like the Whitewater Center, it’s the type of thing you can schedule a friend’s weekend visit around. We need more recreational options like this.
This led me to think, what other unique business concepts does the Charlotte area need? What are the types of businesses that could contribute strongly to the vibe of Charlotte? You can toss around crazy ideas about what the city should do all you want, but the reality is that the private sector plays just as large a role in shaping Charlotte’s identity.
Take the EpiCentre for example. Sure, maybe to you Strike City and the bar/bowling alley concept are corny, but it’s important to have a space like that in the city for corporate events and to host alumni groups in town for the Belk Bowl and for bachelorette parties for people who might live a few miles away. Like it or not, it’s what a lot of out-of-towners understand to be the face of Charlotte, and having the EpiCentre serve its purpose is vastly better than having “nothing.” This is what happens when your city has “nothing.”
My point here isn’t to talk about how great the EpiCentre is, it’s that businesses are extremely important to shaping a city’s identity, and companies like Top Golf help round out that identity. So here are five more business ideas that would enhance Charlotte and one that is just plain handy:
(1) A legit deli in Uptown
I’ve said this before but the bagel situation in Uptown is dire at best. Bruegger’s does what it can but it’s the only game in town and it’s just…not enough. And while there are some good reubens in Uptown, we are really missing a place with a Katz’s-level reuben. Same with soups. If you tell me Jason’s Deli is that place, then I don’t know what to tell you my man, but I’ll pass on dinner at your place.
In my perfect Charlotte, this dream deli would be an 11,000-square-foot monstrosity like the new Amelie’s and be called “Tyron Street Deli” or some similar local name. I would spend upwards of $2,500 per year at such a place.
(2) A bar where the beer prices change like a stock ticker
I hope you guys have had the good fortune to experience a place like this. The idea is that the prices for beers dynamically change based on demand among your fellow patrons, so your drinking experience is enhanced through macroeconomic forces. As the time comes to order the next round, you keep an eye on a stock ticker-esque board that constantly updates based on what beers were just ordered. If you’ve got your heart set on a particular beer, you are at the mercy of the Invisible Hand of the market, but if you’re willing to expand your horizons and aren’t picky, you can drink cheaply by grabbing beers that are priced below their normal value. The Brew Exchange in Austin, TX is an example of the concept I’m talking about.
For a city with an identity so tied to financial services, it’s almost a crime that one of these bars doesn’t already exist in Uptown. Too bad this would probably run afoul of North Carolina’s current alcohol laws (due for a change anyway). These places are a great time and can help you expand your beer drinking horizons as you hunt for a bargain. In my perfect Charlotte, this would be called “The Trading Floor” and be located on 5th Street across from Cowbell just east of 5 Church. That seems about right.
(3) Sushi restaurant where the sushi floats around in little boats
I love these restaurants and I’m not exactly sure why. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it’s a sushi restaurant in which you sit down at a bar that has a small river of water running through the middle that passes in front of your seat. On this river floats tiny rafts carrying small plates of sushi. Rather than telling a waiter your order, you simply pick up the sushi that looks good as it floats past. The color of each plate is coordinated with different price tiers, so at the end of your meal you tally your bill based on your leftover trays. The novelty of this is just fantastic. The best place I’ve been that has this concept is Sushi Boat in San Francisco.
I think Charlotte has pretty good sushi options. Cowfish is fantastic, Ginbu 401 is reliably good, and the over-the-top absurdity of Nikko is delightful. Your favorite sushi place that I didn’t mention is good too. They’re all good. But the novelty of a place like this is something I’d love to see in Charlotte. For this concept I think you could expand a bit out of the city center. I could see this fitting in over at the N.C. Music Factory, though they already have a sushi concept with Eight Sushi.
Now that I think about it, does a place like this have to be a sushi restaurant? I would be all about a similar concept but with barbeque sliders on the little boats instead of sushi. You could have different sauce varieties and meat styles float by on a mini Catawba River, choosing whichever strikes your fancy. If anyone has a ton of capital burning a hole in their pocket let me know. Let’s make this happen.
(4) Live-band karaoke
I’m a terrible singer. Just abysmal. But that doesn’t stop me from letting loose at karaoke when the moment is right, much to the chagrin of my fellow karaoke-goers. However, there exists a happy medium where you can scratch your performing itch while sporting sub-par vocal chops, and that medium is through live band karaoke. The concept is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of singing along to recordings of songs like you’re in your 1992 Altima, you are backed by real, live, honest-to-goodness musicians playing actual instruments. While the fact that real instruments are required eliminates virtually all of Ke$ha’s catalog from consideration**, you can still rock the mike to your favorite Journey song and jump around the stage like Steve Perry, interacting with your fellow “bandmates” and carrying on like Mick Jagger during guitar solos. It’s so much fun.
As far as I know there is no place in Charlotte that has a regular live-band karaoke night, and that’s a shame. I would think that a place like Tin Roof in EpiCentre would be a prime candidate, or even a smaller concert venue like the Visulite could host something like this when it doesn’t have, you know, real musicians with talent.
(5) A salad place with a drive through
This idea has less to do with Charlotte’s identity and everything to do with convenience and meeting an unfulfilled demand in the market. By all accounts, Charlotte is a pretty family-friendly city. We’ve got a great network of YMCAs, great parks, and housing that is attractive to young growing families. If you’ve got a bunch of families, that means you’ve got a bunch of moms***. Where you have moms, you have cars with car seats, and in those car seats you have kids. Kids who don’t like to be put into and taken out of car seats. The moms who are driving these kids around are often doing so around meal times, and would like to eat some food for fuel so they can deal with the aforementioned kids. But taking the kids out of the car seats is such a hassle, remaining in the car becomes a priority, which means restaurants that have drive-throughs are a godsend.
But here’s the problem: most places with drive-throughs sell food that is bad for you. As much as these moms would love to go to Crisp or Chopt and wait in line next to kid-free Mary Gross and Katie Levans, these moms know that eating healthy is not worth the nightmare their kid(s) would wreak on that restaurant an its unsuspecting patrons. So they stay in their cars and hit up Chick-fil-a for the third time this week.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s an Arizona-based chain called Salad and Go that solves this exact problem. Healthy food served through a drive through. Charlotte needs one of these in the worst way. Moms would have a healthy option to eat, the kids would stay in the car, everyone gets what they want. This one needs to happen. Won’t someone think of the moms?
*to put a finer point on it, something that isn’t the Whitewater Center, a brewery, a greenway, or a park. All of which are great but also useless if it’s raining or you don’t drink.
**sorry, people with terrible taste in music ☹
***it’s just science people