The making of Mert’s Heart & Soul restaurant, a Lowcountry legend in Charlotte

By Caroline McMillan Portillo
cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com
Posted: Wednesday, May. 07, 2014
David T. Foster III – dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

James Bazzelle, left, owner of Mert’s Heart & Soul, shares a laugh with customers at the uptown restaurant last week. The restaurant recently won the 2014 Settlers Award from Charlotte Center City Partners, in the year of Mert’s 15th anniversary.

Charlotte’s culinary customers weren’t interested in what James Bazzelle, the owner of Mert’s Heart & Soul, was offering: “healthy Southern cooking.”

“People came in, saying, ‘Where’s the fried chicken? Where’s the mac-n-cheese?’ ” Bazzelle said.
And that’s why, with the first iteration of the restaurant, he said goodbye to herb-roasted chicken, baked fish and steamed vegetables in favor of fried chicken wings, shrimp po’ boys and cornbread made with mayonnaise.

The pivot worked. And now, 19 years after he and his wife, Renee, tried their hands at restaurateurship, the couple employ more than 30 people and run one of the region’s favorite culinary destinations.

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