On a blustery morning in early May, a group of food buffs set out on foot to discover the thriving ethnic culture on Charlotte’s East Side. We didn’t have to walk far. Within a block or so on N. Sharon Amity near the corner of Albemarle Road, we visited an Ethiopian café, a Jerusalem sandwich shop, a Syrian bakery, and a Japanese grocery. If we had been willing to cross Sharon Amity, we could have added Turkey and Peru to our travels.
The occasion was the annual Jane Jacobs Walk. All over the world, people on this weekend were walking through the streets, getting to know their own cities. Jacobs, a keen observer of human interaction and avid believer in healthy cities, wrote the game-changing book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” back in 1961. In it, she raised issues of neighborhood, diversity, conservation, reuse, and urban design that now dominate the struggle to save our cities.
In her honor, an organization founded by her friends and colleagues helps organize walking tours on her birthday in cities all around the globe, aimed at promoting a greater sense of community among local folks. In Charlotte, two Jacobs walks were planned in 2013, one to the ethnically diverse East Side corridor; the other to trendy South End. PlanCharlotte.org, a project developed by the UNCC Urban Institute, sponsored the Charlotte walks, along with the Levine Museum of the New South.
Leading the East Side “munching” tour was Dr. Tom Hanchett, top historian at the Levine Museum, and a foodie himself. Hanchett is no stranger to this side of town. His bus tours exploring ethnic restaurants along Central Avenue, Sharon Amity and Albemarle Road for the Levine consistently sell out, and inspired the annual Taste of the World traveling food fest in East Charlotte. Hugely successful, this event sells out months in advance and has expanded to include some two dozen restaurants.
Tom Hanchett is an enthusiastic proponent of cultural diversity and a fan of equally diverse foods and flavors. A whole series of Hanchett's essays on Charlotte history, music, architecture, and - yes - ethnic restaurants can be found at the HistorySouth.org website. Holding a copy of the Jane Jacobs book, he shepherded us into each establishment, where he introduced the owners and their cuisine.
Click below for a list and a look at the stops on our tour.