For decades, east Charlotte has been the best place in town for reliably good ethnic meals and ingredients for making them at home.The flavors of Vietnam, Lebanon, El Salvador and Somalia all come together on one city block near Central Avenue and North Sharon Amity Road. Turn the corner and find treasures from Ethiopia and culinary traditions of the Palestinians.Now the area known for its international restaurants is diversifying. Businesses catering to vegans, vegetarians and conservationists are sprucing up aging commercial properties and giving them a new life.The newcomers include Bean Vegan Cuisine, which opened in June on Independence Boulevard across from Bojangles’ Arena, and Fern, which has a menu of vegan and vegetarian recipes and a location on Central Avenue in Plaza Midwood.The Greener Apple – a shop within the Book Buyers used bookstore – sells pantry foods, and other items made without animal products. Owner Lee Rathers sells vegan condiments and snacks, body-care products, cleaning supplies, household products such as biodegradable and compostable trash bags, organic weed killer and vegan pet food. Rathers also sells toys made from recycled plastic.A few blocks away, Eco-licious sells vegan foods as well as refinished and secondhand furniture, used housewares and other products, all within an old house on Commonwealth Avenue.“We’re just filling the need,” said Marley Claridge, co-owner of Eco-licious, which she describes as a general store of sorts. “A lot of our customers were shopping online because they couldn’t (shop) locally.”The international restaurants and collage of conscientious shops are not the only important part of east Charlotte’s homage to world culture. East Charlotte’s houses of worship are also a show of diversity, including the Vietnamese Buddhist Society, 6505 Lake Drive; the Islamic Center of Charlotte, 1700 Progress Lane; and the Hindu Center of Charlotte, at 7400 City View Drive.The area hasn’t seen a construction boom for decades, so many of its commercial properties are smaller and have the type of charm that comes only with age. That mix of ingredients has proven compelling for entrepreneurs, many of whom seem proud to step a bit outside the mainstream for real estate as well as for their product lines. Boris + Natasha – a unique men’s and women’s clothing shop – offers an opinionated spin on high fashion from a location on Thomas Avenue in Plaza Midwood. Owner Hope Nicholls’ formula for style has kept her in business for 13 years. “It’s all tightly curated,” she said.Green With Envy is an independently owned shop at Central Avenue and Hawthorne Lane. Tina Nardoci and her sister Barbara Blackburn moved from Davidson to the former Pet Dairy ice cream plant in 2003. They sell accessories for the home, local art, cards and jewelry.“It’s so much nicer than a mall,” Nardoci said. “It’s got a lot more character.”
Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012
Smorgasbord of cultures stirs up taste, change
‘Must’ list 1. Take a self-guided tour of the Revolutionary War-era Hezekiah Alexander Homesite (3500 Shamrock Drive), which was built in 1774 and is the oldest surviving structure in Mecklenburg County. To access the Guide by Cell audio tour, call 704-237-1998. 2. Lang Van Vietnamese Restaurant (3019 Shamrock Drive) is a tidy place in Shannon Park that extends a warm welcome and, for more than 21 years, a respectable showcase of the Southeast Asian cuisine known for light, bright flavors. A specialty is the rice noodle soup pho. 704-531-9525. 3. The VanLandingham Estate (2010 The Plaza) Ralph and Susie Harwood-VanLandingham built the estate in 1913 but spent their summers in cooler mountain climates. They re-created the mountain aesthetic on at their 5-acre property on The Plaza in Plaza Midwood by landscaping with rhododendrons, cedars and cypress. The property was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Today, estate is a nine-room inn and conference center.