CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)- Not only did Leah & Louise, a Charlotte restaurant, survive the pandemic, but the team won an incredible honor, despite the struggles facing the service industry this past year.
In honor of Black History Month, FOX 46 is highlighting the accomplishments of restaurant owners, Greg and Subrina Collier.
“I love when people are like, ‘This reminds me of my grandma,’ or grandma’s coming in telling me how good it is. To me, there’s no bigger compliment than that,” said Greg Collier.
Collier was saved by the kitchen.
“Honestly, I was in a really rough time in my life, just sleeping around couch to couch, not really knowing what was going on, just kind of being a knucklehead at a younger age and one of my friends, was like, ‘You want a job? His dad had a hot wings spot, he was like, ‘Just come in and wash dishes,’ he was like, ‘You can eat free,’ and I was like, ‘I can eat free? Absolutely, I want a job!”
He moved up to line cook, and the woman of his dreams, a waitress on Beale Street in Memphis, visited that hot wings spot.
“My roommate was dating his best friend, so that’s how we met,” said Greg’s wife, Subrina Collier.
Years later, they came to the Queen City.
“At the time, we couldn’t afford Charlotte real estate market for commercial buildings, so we found Rock Hill, and that is where the Yolk started,” said Subrina.
The couple says they started their first restaurant with less than $20,000.
“It was just Greg and I at first, I’m front, he’s back and that evolved into Uptown Yolk, and what you have today is Leah & Louise,” said Subrina.
Leah & Louise, a modern juke joint in Camp North End, named after Greg’s sister and grandma.
“Both of them kind of represent two different ends of the cooking spectrum for me. Leah was kind of always the ‘yeah, I know there’s a recipe, but i’m just going to throw in this thing that’s not in the recipe,’ and my granny Louise is like, ‘this is how you fry chicken.”
“I named the restaurant after them because I felt like it represented the best of who I am,” said Greg.
Think classic Southern dishes with a twist.
“We got rice grits on there because essentially it’s a play on catfish and grits.”
The seats in the back of the restaurant are made of church pews and the foot rests at the bar are old railroad ties, a reverence to Memphis, their home, and a tribute to blues houses which served African Americans during segregation.
“We didn’t come from money, we didn’t come from a family of restaurateurs, we’re first generation,” said Subrina.
The Colliers had a vision of making their restaurant a community gathering spot, even down to the communal tables, but just days before they were set to open, COVID hit.
“We had people depending on us, we had put a lot into it, so we had to just keep going.” Said Subrina.
In the middle of a pandemic, which has shut down restaurants and bars, Leah & Louise, earned the title of number two best new restaurant in America by Esquire magazine.
“Subrina was like, ‘wake up, wake up, we just got number two best restaurant in the country,’ I was like who’s number one?” said Greg.
That passion and drive are what Greg hopes young Black men see in him.
“I want to make sure that that 18-year-old kid sees me. I’m authentic, I’m me. I’m from where you’re from,” said Greg.
And he wants people to see the potential in teens and help change their outcomes.
“When I was 17 or 18, I could have easily been in jail.”
Subrina is helping more Black women join her.
“Mostly you see Black women in more fast-casual, fast food, you don’t see a lot of us in the front of the house for fine dining,” said Subrina.
They’re looking ahead, but never forgetting where they came from.
“That has been our mission to highlight the underdog.”
And they remember the love that brought them together.
“Her belief in me is like the strongest power that exists.”