Food & Drink

Popular Charlotte farm-to-table restaurant closing 2 locations

Executive chef Ben Philpott presided over the kitchen at both locations of Block & Grinder.
Executive chef Ben Philpott presided over the kitchen at both locations of Block & Grinder. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Block & Grinder, the farm-to-table restaurant with locations in Cotswold and Langtree near Lake Norman, announced Friday that it’s closing.

Executive chef Ben Philpott said that next Thursday will be the last day for both locations.

“We have good weeks and bad weeks,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. I was trying to offer all-natural, as-local-as-possible product for a competitive price and it just didn’t work out.”

Several factors played into it, Philpott said, including the cost of rent and the difference between what customers were willing to pay and the price of locally sourced food. Dinner prices ranged from $13 to $18 for burgers to $24 to $26 for entrees and $29 to $37 for steaks. He admitted some customers complained about prices at the restaurant, which is known for a meat-focused menu that used products from a long list of area farms. But local food, he would tell them, is costly and takes more labor to handle.

“It takes a little more care, concern and attention.”

The restaurants also included a market concept, with a case from which customers could buy meat to cook themselves. That usually accounted for 10 to 15 percent of sales. But sales could be unpredictable, which made it hard to manage, he said.

Philpott – also board chairman of the Piedmont Culinary Guild, an organization of chefs, farmers and area food producers – was struggling Friday with ending the restaurants’ contracts with so many local farms. He bought regularly from seven to 15, depending on the season: Salem Hills Farm, Small City Farm, New Town Farm, Tega Hills, Middle Ground Farms, Rooster Hill and several more.

“This whole thing hurts more than anything,” he said. “Some of these people, they depend on us.”

He said about 60 restaurant employees will be out of work. The Langtree location opened last June; the original site in Cotswold is near the busy corner of Providence and Sharon Amity roads.

Jed Kampe, the owner and general manager, opened in Cotswold in 2013 with a contemporary style and a menu that stretched from burgers to wild game. Original chef Kent Graham left shortly after opening, but when Philpott arrived a few months later, Block & Grinder hit its stride, with specialties from burgers to chicken liver pâté and charcuterie. It was also known for a creative bar program and cheeky touches that included portraits of Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill the Butcher, from the movie “Gangs of New York.”

“This is the kind of restaurant I’ve always wanted to run,” Philpott said. “This place has been huge for me. As far as a creative outlet, I couldn’t have been happier. I’m really sad.”

While the restaurants developed loyal regulars and often had waits for tables on Friday and Saturday nights, it wasn’t enough, he said.

“Say thank you to the guests we had,” Philpott said. “I loved cooking here for y’all.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis

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