Charlotte Cafe, a Park Road mainstay, files for bankruptcy

Charlotte Cafe, one of the oldest businesses in the landmark Park Road Shopping Center, filed for bankruptcy protection this week, but its owner says the 33-year-old restaurant is staying put.

“We will take it on as a family, and we’ll get out,” said Jimmy Roupas, who opened the restaurant in 1981. Federal documents say the family-owned casual dining restaurant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday.

Some businesses in the shopping center have complained of rising rents, but Roupas said the cafe’s financial trouble stems more from increased food prices and from debts incurred during the recession. Roupas said sales dropped about $70,000 in 2008 among the three Charlotte Cafe locations at the Arboretum, on Park Road and in Lake Wylie.

Roupas said the cafe will stay open during the reorganization and doesn’t plan any major changes. Employees will stay, wages and salaries will remain unchanged and prices will not increase, he said.

“What I’m going to do is tighten my belt,” Roupas said. “Buy better, work harder.”

For example, he said, he will be going out to procure many of his own food supplies to cut down on delivery costs.

Daughter Stephanie is the manager at the Arboretum location. His wife, Mary, hops from restaurant to restaurant, taking care of the cafe’s decor and hospitality. Several of the employees have been there for 15 to 20 years, serving up the homestyle pork chops and Southern vegetables to customers who come back week after week.

Roupas, who has owned more than a dozen restaurants in the Charlotte area, said he plans to dedicate more time to the original Charlotte Cafe, which is the restaurant’s most successful location and one of the oldest businesses in the 58-year-old Park Road center.

Priscilla Schmidt, 74, is a frequent visitor to the cafe and Park Road Books next door. She said she prefers Park Road to other shopping malls such as SouthPark because she feels safer parking her car outside as opposed to parking garages.

“Back when my children were growing up, they’d ride their bicycles down here,” said Schmidt, who lives just a few blocks away from the shopping center. “I take my great-grandchildren now.”

A lot of the older people who live in the nearby retirement community eat at Charlotte Cafe on a regular basis, she said. “They eat here every night,” Schmidt said. “It’s just a close-knit area.”

The Park Road Shopping Center opened in 1956 as Charlotte’s first open-air retail center. Ever since Columbia-based developer EDENS bought the property three years ago, some businesses owners have said rising rents are forcing them to close or move.

Last September, Roland’s Salon shut down after 58 years. Other stores, such as Rack Room Shoes and Piedmont Music Center, also have left Park Road.

In 2011, longtime owner Porter Byrum donated the shopping center to Wake Forest University, Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate University. Not long after, the universities sold the property for $82 million to EDENS, which also owns the Kenilworth Commons and Atherton Mill shopping centers in Charlotte.

EDENS has said it is trying to encourage customers to visit multiple stores and stay longer with added outdoor seating and a more pedestrian-friendly design.

Roupas said the cafe’s financial trouble has nothing to do with EDENS. “They’re trying to make this a better place, and we want to be a part of that.”