Today, restaurant-goers in these parts can taste their way from Turkey to Thailand, Ethiopia to England, Nepal to New Zealand. But is the economy whittling away that diversity?
Even today, as workers scurry around 139 S. Tryon St., preparing for Monday's opening of posh Chima Brazilian Steakhouse, Charlotte's only Turkish restaurant is in peril. Owner Gokhan Mekik, who estimates business has fallen 60 percent in recent months at Sofram Turkish Cuisine in south Charlotte, says he must relocate or close by year's end.
Chima's Bruno Silva, who owns four other locations along the East Coast, says the economy has driven him to discount the $47.50 price of rodizio dinners (in which diners can have more than a dozen meats, plus an extensive salad bar) to $39.50 in Atlanta and Philadelphia. He'll open Charlotte at that price point – plus send out about 80,000 coupons. “It's times like this crisis when we need to roll up our sleeves … cut costs and do everything we can.”
Mekik, who first opened in 2006, slashed his much less expensive menu to best-sellers a few months ago and cut his hours to dinner only. People don't want to risk money on new foods when dollars are so tight, he says. “Everyone says, ‘Just close!' But it's the only Turkish restaurant in Charlotte … I opened this to introduce the cuisine to the American people.”
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The chart on pages 12-13 shows the diversity we have here now. We might lose it if we don't take care of it.