Restaurant power couple Jamie Brown and Jeff Tonidandel of Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub, Growlers Pourhouse and Haberdish owe their success to the most unlikely of inspirations—a backpack trip to Europe and the Great Recession. Feast on the story behind their culinary kingdom.
You quit your jobs before the recession to go on a backpacking journey to Europe. Why?
Jeff Tonidandel – The backpacking trip was a reset of what we were going to do with our lives, to prepare ourselves before we had children and to be introspective for a number of months. We were exploring Europe but also filling out goal sheets. What did we want to do? What were our strengths?
Jamie Brown – I don’t think either of us could have been prepared for how lost we were when we returned [to Charlotte]. … He didn’t have a job, and I was working retail. We couldn’t even afford to eat out.
Jamie, how did Jeff tell you he wanted to open Crepe Cellar?
JB – He took me to dinner. We went to Brixx Pizza on East Boulevard. I even remember what he was wearing. … I was thinking, “He’s going to work for the city in city planning like he’s been talking about. He’s been teaching tennis but now he has a direction. I’m going to have a baby, and we’re going to raise a family.”
JT – She was disappointed.
JB – I didn’t feel that ready. Neither of us had ever bussed a table before.
How did food in Europe influence your first restaurant, Crepe Cellar?
JT – That was a lot of our journal entries and diary entries—us hanging out at places and just being amazed [at] the food and the coffee shops. It’s really what made our trip.
JB – Crepe Cellar is based around European gastropubs and has influences from all over Europe. Sweet and savory crepes are obviously part of the menu, but then we try to pull influences from other parts of the continent. We have a Guinness pie, fish and chips; everything is homemade. We make an authentic pesto. And a lot of Nutella.
Growlers Pourhouse, on the other hand, is completely different concept.
JB – We call it beer food. Food that you would find at a pub but also goes well with craft beer. All the sausages are made in house; we have a great charcuterie program. The menu’s ever evolving, too.
Your latest risk, Haberdish, brings old mill food to a generation that isn’t familiar with a lot of items on the menu. Where did that concept come from?
JT – Haberdish is us embracing Charlotte as our home by exploring the history of Charlotte food and Southern food. When you’re trying to get to the roots of Charlotte, you immediately realize it’s a crossroads. We have Appalachian food from the mountains and some low country things going on. It’s a melting pot of Southern food, but most people only focus on North Carolina barbecue. I didn’t think anyone was really focusing on fried chicken and what a part of culture that is.