May 12, 2015

Amelie’s planning 11,000-square-foot uptown location

Amelie’s has signed a lease for an 11,000-square-foot bakery and restaurant that will replace the College Plaza cafeteria in the Two Wells Fargo building uptown, managing partner Bruce Willette told the Observer Tuesday.

The restaurant would be by far the largest Amelie’s location, in one of uptown’s largest restaurant spaces, and would also include a production kitchen to supply more area Amelie’s stores. Willette – who founded, grew and then sold Salsarita’s when it had more than 80 locations – said the uptown Amelie’s will lay the foundation for a major expansion of the Amelie’s brand, with more stores planned.

“Emerging brands grow into national brands,” said Willette, who joined Amelie’s last year. “Amelie’s can do that...We’re broadening the brand.”

The new location marks a return to uptown for Amelie’s, which started in NoDa with a 24-hour-a-day bakery in 2008. Amelie’s closed its uptown location in the Charlotte Chamber building at 330 S. Tryon Street late last year, after the Charlotte Chamber began renovating and expanding its offices in the building.

In addition to its original location in NoDa, the company operates Amelie’s stores in Rock Hill and Atlanta. The company is also preparing to open another Charlotte store next week in the Carmel Commons Shopping Center, and Willette said Amelie’s is in lease negotiations for a store in the Park Road Shopping Center area.

The new uptown location will be open 24 hours a day on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Willette told me. He expects it to draw on a wide range of customers, from uptown’s growing population to convention attendees nearby to uptown workers.

The site will add to uptown’s ongoing building boom. Two blocks away, an Embassy Suites hotel is under construction. Nearby at 300 South Tryon, a 25-story office tower is underway, and hundreds more apartments are under construction at the Mint Museum and Romare Bearden Park. And on Stonewall Street, hundreds of new apartments, hotel rooms and an office tower are planned within easy walking distance.

Brenda Ische, another one of the three partners who own Amelie’s, said she’s already begun planning the interior. The renovation will include a complete overhaul of the space, which dates to the late 1980s, to bring in some of the original Amelie’s funky vibe. Like other Amelie’s locations, the interior furnishings will be designed and made by Ische, largely from repurposed items bought at the Habitat for Humany ReStore.

“It’s a challenge. It’s a cavernous space,” said Ische. She plans to warm up the space with many hanging drapes, and put in small walls throughout the restaurant to create “cozy” nooks for people to sit and linger.

“I’m going to hang a lot of things from the ceiling,” said Ische, whose other Amelie’s locations prominently feature her chandeliers. “I do hope to turn it into a real conversation piece.”

Along the back wall, a glass-enclosed production kitchen will give diners a view of bakers making pastry and decorating cakes. The elevated seating area of the restaurant will serve as an event space, which Ische said she plans to enclose in shower curtains printed with the Mona Lisa.

The location will also include a beer and wine bar, Willette said. The production kitchen will send items that can be made in bulk, such as pastry shells, out to other Amelie’s, which will then finish the items with fillings, toppings and other in-store.

He emphasized that it won’t be a copy of the original NoDa Amelie’s, but said it will strive for much of the same vibe.

“We can’t transfer the NoDa neighborhood, but we can transfer the Amelie’s,” said Willette. He said the plan is for construction to start this summer, with the location open this fall.

End of an era for cafeteria

The cafeteria at the base of the Two Wells Fargo building has been feeding uptown workers in one form or another for four decades. The original owner, Nelson Bass Jr., first opened a restaurant called Chicken ‘n’ Stuff, in 1973, in a former Wachovia tower now occupied by Duke Energy.

In the late 1980s, then-First Union CEO Ed Crutchfield suggested converting College Street side of the new parking the bank was building into a restaurant that would feed employees and be a good marketing outreach to non-employees. Bass moved his restaurant there.

In 2010, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, now owner of the space, decided to switch from Bass to Compass Group, a global food service operation, to run the cafeteria.

Through a spokesperson, Wells Fargo declined to comment Tuesday, referring questions back to Willette. The Amelie’s managing partner said Wells Fargo had been considering subdividing the space into several different stores and renting them out separately. But his broker, Charles Thrift of Collett, suggested keeping the entire space together and moving the production kitchen over, Willette said.

“You couldn’t ask for a better place,” said Willette.

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