While the food-scene spotlight of
the South is usually aimed at Nashville,
Tennessee, Atlanta and Charleston, South
Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina, is
becoming a food destination brick by
brick—literally. For the past 30 years,
Charlotte-based Burke Hospitality Group
has been adding restaurants to the region
that have a warm Southern aura partly
achieved through timeless building
materials, such as old bricks, stacked stone
and hardwood floors.
Burke Hospitality Group is now five
concepts—Harper’s Restaurant, Mimosa
Grill, Upstream, One Catering and 1801
Grille—and if there’s one notion to
describe the combined assortment, it’s
polished casual, says founder Tom Sasser.
Theater was Sasser’s original passion,
which he supported by working in Atlanta
restaurants. When acting didn’t work
out, a childhood friend beckoned him to
Charlotte, and the two opened Harper’s
Restaurant. The foodservice plan then—
and now—was to open a place where they personally enjoyed the food and drinks served, “and
have a place where guests and folks who come to work with us can have fun and feel cared for,”
Beyond that, they set themselves a high standard of providing restaurants that are easily
accessible (not too expensive) with high-quality food made in-house with locally sourced
ingredients as much as possible—back when “local” was a foreign word. After 30 years in business
and with six restaurants, Sasser shares his thoughts and theories.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHEN YOU DESCRIBE THE RESTAURANTS
AS POLISHED CASUAL?
First, it is conveyed through the timeless construction material. We use warm, natural materials
in our interior spaces to make people feel comfortable. Our restaurants are not highly designed
or sterile. Additionally, we pay close attention to lighting to provide a warm, casual feel. We also
carry it out through our menus and our open kitchens so guests can see what we are doing. We are
proud of our people and the food they make. You will feel comfortable in jeans or a tie.
WHAT MAKES YOUR RESTAURANTS UNIQUELY CHARLOTTE?
First, we are in different areas of the city—in main areas of town. It gives everyone a Burke
Hospitality Group option in their area. Charlotte has become a global melting pot, and our city and
our company have always embraced all of this diversity. Many of these international folks have come
to work for us and have also opened restaurants in the city. We have all been influenced by them.
Thus, we do a lot of things with a Mexican flair. We have great salsa, chips and tacos. One of
our appetizers is Dip Duo or Trio, with jalapeño pimento cheese, guacamole, creamy spinach or
house salsa served with warm tortilla chips.
OPPOSITE: Upstream offers a trio
of appetizers: Big Eye Tuna Tacos,
Charred Shishito Peppers and Spicy
Shrimp Lettuce Wraps.
ABOVE: Harper’s Restaurant serves
With three locations, Harper’s
Restaurant focuses on American-style
cuisine, including hickory-grilled
steaks, fresh seafood, proprietary
pit-cooked Carolina barbecue, fresh-ground burgers, specialty salads and
sandwiches, and thin-crust pizza
baked in a wood-fired oven.
Dinner Menu Samples: Pecan Crusted Trout
with peach chutney, green beans and
mashed potatoes; Hickory Grilled
Tuscan Ribeye with basil pesto and
baked sweet potato; Wild Boar & Bison
Meatloaf with green beans and Yukon
gold mashed potatoes; Crispy Shrimp
Po’boy; and Slow Smoked Pulled Pork