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  • SPM

    wyang@charlotteobserver.com

    Wendy Yang - wyang@charlotteobserver.com
    Pam Richards says this lamb dish is simple. She uses lamb loin, spinach, prosciutto and puff pastry to make this dish, which she calls Pam's Lamb. See recipe below.
  • SPM

    wyang@charlotteobserver.com

    Wendy Yang - wyang@charlotteobserver.com
    Chuck Richards and his wife, Pam, in their wine room in their home. Richards has about 3,000 bottles of wine in his wine room, which they also converted to a dining room. His oldest wine dates to 1961.
  • SPM

    wyang@charlotteobserver.com

    Wendy Yang - wyang@charlotteobserver.com
    Chuck Richards is the executive director of the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend.
  • SPM

    wyang@charlotteobserver.com

    Wendy Yang - wyang@charlotteobserver.com
    This 3-liter bottle of wine by Robert Foley Vineyards is Chuck Richards' favorite. It is one of 10 vintages that has been produced. He owns all 10.
  • SPM

    wyang@charlotteobserver.com

    Wendy Yang - wyang@charlotteobserver.com
    Chuck Richards with his wife, Pam.

Just call him Mr. Charlotte

By Kathleen Purvis | Photography by Wendy Yang

Posted: Tuesday, Mar. 22, 2011

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No, his name isn’t Chuck Reid.

Chuck Richards gets called that all the time. But with his mane of white hair and courtly manners, he ought to be called “Mr. Charlotte.”

Since 1961, when 15-year-old Chuck rode his bike from his parents’ house on Lombardy Circle to ask about a bag-boy job at Reid’s on Providence Road, Richards has been a constant presence on the city’s food and business scene.

He’s a graduate of Myers Park High who returned there as a teacher in the 1960s. He’s a savvy businessman who took a 1930s-era market, shaped it into a gourmet food store and became a pioneer in uptown’s retail development in the ‘90s.

And he’s a passionate wine lover who helped to put the city on the wine world’s map. When you walk into a store and pick up a California cult cabernet or a splurge-worthy chardonnay, thank Chuck for that. He started drawing winemakers and distributors before Charlotte had anything that could be remotely described as a “wine scene.”

He says he’s just followed one simple rule:

“We need to leave our community better than we found it.”

Heart set on retail

When he parked that bike at Reid’s, Richards found his heart in retail.

“If you listen to people, you’ll learn an awful lot. In retail, you meet a lot of people. And if you listen to them, you’ll learn.”

Arthur Reid founded the store in 1928 on Morehead Street, opening a second location on Providence Road in 1931. (A short-lived store on Park Road replaced the Morehead Store but closed in the ‘70s when Bi Lo took over the corner.) When Richards went to work there, it was owned by Reid’s nephew, Leroy Morrison, “the finest gentleman I ever knew.”

Morrison emphasized service, including free delivery. Richards wasn’t the regular delivery boy, but everybody pitched in, in the days when people left doors unlocked or told you where to find the key.

“I’ve been in most of the houses in Eastover (and) Myers Park,” he says. He delivered groceries when the Lineberger family owned the Duke Mansion, dropping things off in an ice locker in a parking garage under the house.

Charge accounts operated on a signature and phone number. “It was based on your word that you were going to pay,” Richards remembers. “There wasn’t any credit application.”

Richards worked at Reid’s through high school and college, at High Point University. He got his degree in business administration, then took night classes to get a teaching certificate. After teaching in Monroe, he moved to his alma mater, Myers Park High, in 1966.

All the time, he still worked at Reid’s -- nights, weekends, holidays. He met wife Pam when she was getting her degree in dental hygiene. Teaching salaries make tight budgets, and their grocery budget was $12 a week. They once spent $14. When they got home, Pam sat on the floor and cried, “because we didn’t have the $2.”

He enjoyed teaching, he says, and still hears from former students. “I learned to love it. And I couldn’t make a living at it.”

There was another incentive to stick with it: A teaching deferment. “So many of the decisions that were driving people my age was a little thing called the draft.” Richards was willing to serve, and even tested for the Air Force. But he didn’t want to go to Vietnam, and when the lottery came in, he didn’t have to.

Richards went to Reid’s full time. He had a hand-shake deal that when Morrison retired, he’d have first crack at buying the store.

Richards’ friend Lindsey Evans worked up the street, at Smith’s Superette. “Lindsey had the same aspirations I did at Reid’s.” In 1984, Morrison retired and Smith’s was sold to make way for a bank that’s now a Bank of America branch. Richards and Evans teamed up to buy Reid’s. They ran it together until 1990, when Evans opened a store in Pageland, where he still lives.

‘Experiences you couldn’t buy’

Reid’s became the little market with things you couldn’t get in bigger stores. If you wanted a special meat cut, caviar or truffles, you got them at Reid’s. Charlotte was learning city tastes.

In the early ‘70s, the wine “department” was a few shelves, most of it sherry. “Wine was not a high agenda in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s except for very specific people.”

The Richards were a young couple with friends who were starting to appreciate life. They lived at The Meadows and had a supper club with friends. At the time, CPCC had a deal that if you wanted to learn something and you could provide a place and people, the school had to provide an instructor. The supper club pitched in $20 a quarter to buy wines and CPCC sent Observer restaurant reviewer Jerry Simpson to teach them.

Pretty soon, the little wine section at Reid’s wasn’t so little. They started a wine club with tastings and dinners, and welcomed winemakers and distributors, giving them a market and hospitality. In the early 1980s, the Richards visited California and winemakers returned their hospitality.

“There were maybe – MAYBE – 50 wineries in Napa.” They had such a great time, friends in Charlotte wanted to go. That started the Reid’s wine tours, with itineraries planned by the Richards. Eventually, they led almost three dozen trips, to California, France and Italy, using Richards’ wine connections.

“The places we were able to take people – I look back now and it was incredible. We gave people experiences you couldn’t buy, no matter how rich you were.”

‘Nurture the child’

Richards likes to call 1989 “a fine vintage.” He and Pam led their first California wine tour. The first cru groups ¬– serious wine clubs – formed in Charlotte. And the Tower Club wanted to hold a charity event.

A small group, including Richards, put together a wine tasting and small auction for charity. They raised $65,000 and the Charlotte Wine and Food Weekend was born. They did it again two years later, and started adding events, eventually shaping a three-day celebration with more than 40 events, including dinners, tastings, auctions and a golf tournament.

Big names started coming– Robert Parker Jr., Kevin Zraly, a whole roster of Mondavis, every first-growth wine house in Bordeaux. The every-other-year event has raised more than $3 million.

The event focus is on the wines, but the charities all focus on children. “One thing we have not lost our focus on is to nuture the child in mind, body and spirit.”

Uptown pioneer

In the late ‘90s, Richards had made a bold decision. Uptown was starting to take off, with big plans and big buildings. Richards closed the Providence store and opened a bigger Reid’s in Seventh Street Station.

“I think in some small way, we have to be looked upon as a pioneer in the redevelopment of uptown. That drew a lot of attention, and drew a lot of people up there.

“The arena was building, the light rail was built, the Hearst Tower. Oh, my goodness – the UNC business school. None of that was going on.”

The new store nutured a lot of food figures. In the meat department, there was Bucky Frick, who had developed a following at another small market, Giant Genie. The wine bar had room for a cooking school featuring local writer Heidi Edidin. The wine department was not only known for the selection, but also for the knowledgable managers.

One of the first was Emily Peterson, who is now starting her own import line. At 25, she was young, a little edgy and just getting started in wine. But she says Richards took a gamble on her.

“He was like my dad. He let me get away with just enough. He sort of hung back a little bit, letting me make some mistakes and learn from those.

“The Reid’s clientele was a pretty old-school group of people, a lot of people who were very, very savvy. The Reid’s shoppers were more educated, the economy was crazy, people didn’t think twice about buying a $100 cabernet from Napa Valley.”

A new location

But 2010 was a different world. Charlotte was shaken when Richards announced Reid’s would close. Despite rumors that the cost of the lease was being raised, Richards has refused to say what caused the closing.

There were several rumors about a new location, and Richards says he considered it. But they just couldn’t afford it.

Originally, the Richards planned to keep just their gift-basket line, a mail-order business that Pam Richards had run. But right after the closing, they were approached by S.C. businessman Tom Coker, owner of Young Plantation, a line of specialty foods that includes two stores and a half-dozen pop-up stores that open just for the holidays.

Coker wanted to buy the gift line, but ended up buying the whole business. Pam Richards will continue to work there to run the gift basket line.

“He said, ‘I wanted to continue the legacy you have built in this community.’” Richards says that’s what he and Pam needed to hear.

Coker opened just for the holidays in the Selwyn Corners shopping center, on Selwyn Avenue near Colony Road. Longtime Charlotteans may remember the space as the old Fresh Market. Foodwise, it’s a happening corner: Clean Catch Fish Market, New York Butcher and two chocolate shops are all in the same block.

Richards predicts competition won’t be a problem. Instead, food lovers will find critical mass.

“It’s kind of like antique stores,” he says. “One antique store won’t survive, but put five close together . . . “

After renovations, the new Reid’s opens this month, with a wine bar, a cooking school, and Bucky Frick back in the meat department. Even the original neon sign, built in 1943, is being refurbished.

“It will be like Reid’s was, the original Reid’s, without bread, eggs and milk,” Richards says.

With one exception: No Chuck.

At 67, Richards has a new job. Just as the uptown Reid’s was closing, the Charlotte Wine and Food Weekend had an opening for an executive director. Richards resigned from the board and applied.

Now, he has a quiet office off Park Road, and plans to build the wine festival into an even bigger event. The 2012 Weekend kicks off this month at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Richards is excited about growing it, maybe even making it yearly.

For the moment, though, he’s getting used to something new, the solitude of working alone. After all those years of keeping up with 30 or 40 employees and a constant flow of customers, he says it’s the hardest part.

The Richards never had children. He says they planned to, but work always got in the way. Their Reid’s employees became their family, a feeling he still has.

“Years ago, I told Pam, ‘I don’t want to be married to the store.’ A lot of years later, that’s all I know.”

2012 wine kickoff

The Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend will be April 19-21, 2012, at the Ritz-Carlton. But the year starts this April:

- The official kick-off is 7-10 p.m. April 16 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, including wine, food, and both live and silent auctions. Tickets are $125.

- A four-course vintner dinner hosted by Randy Lewis featuring Lewis Cellars wines is April 16 at Zebra, 4521 Sharon Road. Tickets are $150.

Charities:

The beneficiaries of the 2011-12 events are:

Council for Children’s Rights – As the leading voice for children’s rights in Charlotte, the council works to provide long-term solutions to chronic problems affecting children in our community. Funds from Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend will be used in the individual advocacy program to assist abused and neglected children.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina - Serving 14 Carolinas counties with its Backpack for Kids Project, Second Harvest provides underprivileged children with nutritious food over weekends. Funds raised during Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend will be used to provide hundreds of backpacks with food to children in need for a school year.

Charlotte Community Health Clinic – Providing quality health care to the county’s low-income uninsured population for a decade, Charlotte Community Health Clinic is opening a pediatric clinic to serve uninsured children, especially children with chronic health conditions. Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend funds will pay for basic expenses including medicine and medical supplies.

Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center – Serving Mecklenburg County children in a child-friendly setting, Pat’s Place’s skilled team of professionals, in partnership with the police, district attorney’s office and health care providers, work together under one roof to evaluate sexual abuse allegations, provide family support and assist in all stages of investigations and prosecutions. Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend will partially fund the family advocates who provide direct assistance to the children and who also offer after-hours emergency response for families in critical need.

For tickets and details, go to www.charlottewineandfood.org, call 704-338-9463, or visit the festival on Facebook or on Twitter (@cltwineandfood).

RECIPE:

Pam’s Lamb

The Richards occasionally offer dinners at their home in Uwharrie as an auction item during the Charlotte Wine and Food Weekend. This is always the centerpiece, because it’s a beautiful presentation but it’s easy to prepare in advance.

1 tenderloin from a rack of lamb for each 2 – 3 people (3 tenderloins serve 8)

1 frozen puff pastry sheet for each tenderloin

2 boxes of frozen chopped spinach or 1 bag of fresh spinach (preferable)

4 slices of very thin prosciutto ham for each tenderloin

2 beaten eggs

The night before or early afternoon prior to serving, sear the lamb tenderloins in a very hot pan. You only want to brown the outsides of each tenderloin. Let cool and place in the refrigerator.

If you are going to use frozen spinach, defrost and drain thoroughly 2 packages. Squeeze all liquid out of spinach. Store dry in fridge until ready to assemble.

About 2 hours prior to baking, remove the seared lamb and spinach to counter to come to room temp.

Remove puff pastry from freezer and place on counter top to defrost.

As soon as the pastry becomes soft enough to unfold, do so on a counter top. You want the pastry only defrosted enough to unfold. The sheet will unfold to make a rectangle. Place 4 slices of the prosciutto top to bottom slightly overlapped on the pastry leaving about an inch border. Lay the spinach on top of the prosciutto until you don’t see much of the ham showing through the spinach.

Wipe the lamb tenderloins off with a damp cloth to remove any moisture and place them lengthwise in the middle of the rectangle. Fold the bottom of the pastry up and the top down and seal by pushing the pastry together. Fold each end like an envelope and seal with pressure from your fingers to make a sealed package. Doesn’t have to be beautiful, just sealed.

Turn the packages over with sealed side down. Brush with an egg wash (beaten egg with about 1 Tbsp water) and place on a roasting rack. Do not allow sides to touch if baking more than 1 package.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 425 degrees for about 15 – 17 minutes until golden brown. Let sit for 10 minutes prior to slicing. Each slice should be about ¾ - 1 inch. The layers of the ham and spinach will show and the lamb should be medium rare. Can be served with a Béarnaise sauce on the side (Pam Richards recommends Knorr Swiss, with extra tarragon vinegar added).

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