The end of the year will be the start of a new chapter for a section of Dilworth and one longtime Charlotte restaurateur.
A sign at the entrance of Art’s BBQ & Deli at 900 E. Morehead St. announces that the 43-year-old diner will permanently close at the end of the year.
“That’s a bummer. I guess I’ll be eating at home more,” said Rick Langford who’s been coming to Art’s about three times a week for 15 years. His favorites are the ground sirloin, club sandwich and chicken wrap.
“Danny always has great food and service,” he said Thursday morning.
That’s Danny as in owner Danny Katopodis, who said he works about 55 hours a week, six days a week at the small yellow restaurant on about a quarter an acre. As he turned 60 this year, he started thinking it was time to retire.
“I’m going to sleep late and tackle a long to-do list at home,” he said.
Katopodis took over the restaurant almost 20 years ago from his father, Art Katopodis. Art moved to the U.S. from Greece in 1952, then to Charlotte in the 1960s. Art opened the restaurant in 1976 and retired in 2002, when Danny took over.
Art’s BBQ & Deli’s serves breakfast with menu items like homemade biscuits and sandwiches, and lunch sandwiches and plates such as Art’s Famous Bar-B-Q Sandwiches. Nothing on the menu is over $10. Katopodis said the menu prices haven’t changed in five years. Everything is still served on Styrofoam plates and plastic forks and knives.
And although business is busier than ever, he said it was a good time for a change.
“Things come to an end. I can’t be here forever,” Katopodis said. “Most of the customers are regulars and we try to get to really know them.”
‘The Panthers cafeteria’
One regular was Jerry Richardson, the former Carolina Panthers team owner.
“He liked grilled cheese and baked beans,” Katopodis said.
Richardson, team players and staff frequented so often, Katopodis said, that they referred to Art’s as “The Panthers Cafeteria.”
Pictures on the small restaurant’s tan walls include Panthers memorabilia and signed photos, as well as Charlotte Hornets pictures.
“Over the years, we’ve had the most wonderful clientele, just about everybody from politicians to celebrities to sports figures,” Katopodis said, including Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Hornets president Fred Whitfield.
But it’s the neighborhood regulars who are sad, in disbelief and even in denial the restaurant is closing. On Thursday, the staff greeted them by name at the counter.
“Nothing will hold a candle to it,” said Gene Deal, who’s been coming to Art’s about three times a week for a decade.
He and his friend, Malcolm Whitley of Concord, meet up every Thursday on fried chicken day. Whitley said he’s been eating at Art’s since he was a child when his mother worked there.
“I don’t know where we’re going to go now,” Whitley said.
Katopodis, who has seen generations come through the door, said some customers have even shed tears when they learn about the pending closing, likely on Dec. 20.
“I didn’t realize how upset they’d be but it’s the best compliment you could ever have,” he said.
Mecklenburg County deed records show the restaurant property sold for $1.6 million in June 2016 to The Duke Endowment.
Rhett Mabry, president of the endowment, said there are no plans yet for using the space as the board considers options. The foundation also bought the former H&R Block for $2.7 million in 2016, county records show.
“We will raze the existing buildings and will beautify the space as we think about the best use for the properties,” Mabry said.