One of the best things about growing a small business is getting to engage in the creative process. I was reminded of that Tuesday when I met with Lucia Zapata Griffith, who recently opened the Poplar Street Café & Wine Bar in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward.
A native of Lima, Peru, Griffith opened the café in the historic Morrison House, a Victorian-style dwelling built in 1885 and once owned by the widow of Robert Hall Morrison, Davidson College’s first president.
Griffith, an architect by profession, said she’s having the time of her life watching the concept she envisioned slowly come together…and even evolve.
“It’s creative work,” she said. “You listen to what people want, and you respond with the best you can give.”
Griffith bought Morrison House in 1999. The previous owners had used it as a bookstore.
“The idea was to renovate it and sell it,” she said, “but I couldn’t. I fell in love with it, so I kept my office here.”
Griffith said she eventually got the idea to open a café, in part, from her architectural work. He designed several restaurants at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and a café concept elsewhere in the city.
Also, she said, “I wanted to open the house to the public. I always wanted to share it. A café lets everyone come and spend time together.”
In Lima, she said, food is at the center of the city’s social life.
“People come (to cafes) for coffee, they talk politics, they argue about the pope. They just relate. It has a community interaction that I really wanted.”
Griffith said one of her best decisions was to team up with good partners. Her chef, Bruno Macchiavello, also hails from Lima and understands her vision. And for day-to-day management, there’s Yolanda Johnson, who has extensive restaurant experience. Griffith said she trusts her partners and tries to avoid second-guessing them.
“I know my limitations,” she said. “I know that I have limited knowledge of the food business, limited capacity to do it on my own.”
Since the café opened four months ago, Griffith and her team have been listening to customers while refining the concept. They’ve expanded the menu from sandwiches and salads (plus and array of pastries and desserts) to include small dishes. Plans include expanding the wine bar into a full bar.
Griffith said they made a point to delay the grand opening until the team had time to make all necessary adjustments. And now, she said, comes the part she likes most.
“I love the people – meeting people, entertaining, chatting with people,” she said. “I could do that day in and day out. I love it. That part I know I can deliver.”
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.
ShopTalk focuses on Charlotte-area small businesses and how they meet challenges. Know a small business we should write about? Email Celeste Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
The Poplar Street Café & Wine Bar is located at 224 W. Tenth St. in Charlotte. Grand opening is Friday, 5-10 p.m., and regular hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, and 11 a.m. -10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Closed on Sundays.