Former Black-owned restaurant in NC seeks landmark status

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Standing in a parking good deal at the corner of Beatties Ford Highway and LaSalle Road in West Charlotte, 82-yr-outdated Elloree Erwin paints a photo of the flourishing community above the decades.

There had been the lifelong pals she achieved on frequent walks from the Double Oaks neighborhood to Johnson C. Smith College in the late 1950s and early ’60s. In in between courses, Erwin picked up shifts at the box office environment of the Ritz Theater on Beatties Ford Street, developed exclusively for the Black group.

Together the way, she met people throughout the community, from enterprise house owners to truck shipping and delivery personnel. Individuals, she reported, ended up very pleased to say they lived on that side of city. “This was the everyday living of the Black local community,” Erwin reported.

And sitting down in a single of the more popular corners of the community was McDonald’s Cafeteria. Not to be perplexed with the rapidly food stuff cafe, the cafeteria was a staple in the group for a long time.

Christopher Dennis, a community developer, bought the 1970s-period setting up at 2023 Beatties Ford Highway a couple a long time ago with an eye toward redevelopment.

Dennis was at first considering tearing the making down thanks to its age and other components. Dennis’ company, E-Correct Advancement Corp., acquired it for $1.25 million in early 2020, according to county residence data.

But during a single scheduling meeting shortly right after he procured the constructing, Dennis was on his telephone when he came across an previous Charlotte Observer tale referencing the developing. He learned how John McDonald, a Black entrepreneur born in Charlotte, begun his properly-recognised cafeteria in 1970 at that identical website.

Dennis knew he couldn’t tear it down.

Knowledge CHARLOTTE’S Background

So as an alternative of knocking it down, Dennis moved ahead with welcoming a JP Morgan Chase department that opened past September.

The inside is mainly unfamiliar to the cafeteria’s heyday as a conference spot for the Black local community. But the exterior of the creating still shares quite a few of the very same features.

That is why Erwin was eager to fulfill Dennis on a latest sunny March day. She had heard of his work along Beatties Ford Highway and was hopeful the landmark designation would get authorized.

“I’m happy persons like you are carrying out issues to revitalize, deliver it back again to the initial benchmarks and the objectives that we all needed for our neighborhood,” Erwin instructed Dennis, cars whizzing by them at the busy intersection.

Dennis desires that, much too.

His corporation is redeveloping a commercial web site across the avenue from the previous cafeteria. He’s looking for the historic designation to support teach the broader local community about the individuals who assisted pave the way.

“I want men and women to push as a result of Beatties Ford Street and not only stay the future but recognize the historical past,” Dennis said.


McDonald’s Cafeteria is not to be confused with the rapid-meals cafe.

John McDonald’s little organization was “one of the most significant spaces for the African American community in Charlotte,” the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission wrote in a designation report accomplished very last August.

At its March 14 meeting, the fee held a general public hearing, the initially stage in an acceptance course of action that sooner or later will head to the Metropolis Council.

When he was in his early 20s, McDonald moved his household to Brooklyn, New York, where he worked as a cook dinner in a hotel, seafood property and steak cafe, in accordance to the commission’s report. In 1949, he opened his possess cafe identified as McDonald’s Dining Room.

McDonald later felt termed by God to return to Charlotte. Once residence, he noticed the level of popularity of buffet-style cafeterias.

By 1970, he experienced bought the making at Beatties Ford Highway and LaSalle Avenue. He also opened a “mini centre,” with a seafood retailer, splendor and barber store, an insurance coverage and real estate workplace, and a smaller grocery retail store, the report notes.

McDonald leased the spaces to young managers for a comparatively lower fee and utilized local faculty college students.

The cafeteria grew in recognition, identified for the two a spouse and children environment and a area wherever politicians and other town officers gathered. McDonald served breakfast, lunch and supper with dishes such as quick ribs, fried fish, mac and cheese, and sweet potato pie.

At the time, several corporations in the spot had been Black-owned.

This was even with the fact that the neighborhoods bordering Beatties Ford Street ended up predominantly African American. McDonald worked to transform that by employing his very own money to provide professional space at fair fees to Black administrators, the report states.


In 1982, McDonald moved the cafeteria to a more substantial place on Beatties Ford Road. The new site was closer to Interstate 85, at 2812 Beatties Ford Street.

The new place could seat all over 250 men and women. Churches held conferences there. So did civic businesses.

“That cafeteria was the coronary heart of our community,” Erwin recalled. “Everybody achieved there.”

That integrated Erwin’s sister, Sarah Stevenson.

Stevenson started the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Discussion board, which met to examine issues significant to the Black community. The team collected all over hot coffee at McDonald’s. The discussion board is even now close to these days.

Anytime the Rev. Jesse Jackson came to city, folks would meet up with him at the cafeteria, Erwin recalled.

The Black political caucus would also satisfy at the cafeteria. Alongside one another, customers pushed for much better illustration in govt as properly as equivalent accessibility to things like bank funding. “Everything that we are nonetheless pushing for now,” Erwin claimed.

Stevenson’s discussion board would mature from its roots at the cafeteria to a popular group that would at some point enable men and women like Dennis, the developer.

“If you ended up seeking to do some thing or be one thing in Charlotte,” Dennis claimed, “and you didn’t go to that discussion board it may not have gotten performed.”

At the new site more up Beatties Ford Street, McDonald expanded to incorporate other business enterprise ventures. He opened a lodge and amusement park recognized as Enjoyable Town in 1992.

Together the way, his cafeteria turned a “must see and visit” location in Charlotte, widely regarded as the most common, non-chain cafe in the metropolis, the commission’s report states.


By June 2003, McDonald’s Cafeteria shut. By then, it was owned by a firm whose traders provided former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt. The two Gantt, and Rep. Mel Watt, a previous congressman, cited a rough business weather.

The eatery, lodge and amusement park ran into really hard situations immediately after McDonald died in 1995 and the cafe faced foreclosure, according to Observer files.

Stevenson was saddened by the loss to the community. In a transplant-weighty boomtown, the cafeteria was a location for regulars to see each individual other, Stevenson instructed an Observer reporter at the time.


The Landmarks Fee would make tips to the Town Council on designating historic landmarks. A public listening to is scheduled for McDonald’s Cafeteria at the City Council conference on March 28. Council customers are also predicted to vote on the designation then, according to a city spokesman.

If accepted, the creating would sign up for 358 other landmark properties across the county. Other close by designations incorporate the Excelsior Club at 921 Beatties Ford Street. The Grand Theater, 333 Beatties Ford Highway, is also a landmark, together with structures on JCSU’s campus.

The designation of the McDonald’s making would give style review authority over the home to the landmarks commission. Any material alterations designed to the house must first get approved by the commission.

It does not, even so, reduce demolition. A assets operator can decide to tear the creating down and, by legislation, the fee can’t deny that software. But it has the energy to hold off the conclusion for up to a 12 months to find an option.

For Erwin, the creating nonetheless carries crucial reminiscences. She can keep in mind McDonald as a father figure.

Dennis, she stated, is amongst a team of persons working to hold that legacy alive.

“(McDonald) was a man that I sense experienced an open coronary heart to do a little something in his neighborhood that his folks could occur to and have a pleasant put to sit down and eat,” Erwin mentioned. “He had a vision for this area.”

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