Chef Andarrio Johnson is “Bringing Everyone Together” at Cuzzo’s Cuisine

by Sam Perley

Andarrio Johnson first started working in the kitchen way back in 1994, learning to make pizzas at Little Caesar’s at the age of 15. He soon began washing dishes at the local Crown Plaza Resort and after high school, enrolled at Charleston’s Johnson & Wales University to officially set in motion his cooking career.

“I’ve always been in the kitchen,” said Johnson, a South Carolina native who now owns Cuzzo’s Cuisine on Tuckaseegee Road and AMG Catering. “I moved to Charlotte in 2011 and opened my own business in 2014 with my cousin, which is how the name, Cuzzo’s, came together. AMG Catering started off everything. It is Cuzzo’s, just a different entity. Now, we’ve had the food truck for six years and the restaurant for four years.”

A self-proclaimed “big breakfast guy,” Johnson’s specialty dish is shrimp and grits. Cuzzo’s scrumptious menu is loaded with standout dishes including its famous lobster Mac & Cheese, a variety of different styles of wings, seafood, chicken and waffles and southern-style sides.

“I’m a hard worker and a rare breed,” he added. “I came from the country and my whole life I’ve just been in the kitchen. Our mission statement is to make everyone feel like family when they came to Cuzzo’s, but we also want to have a major impact in the community as well. I’m just here cooking, but I can’t really believe how much food brings everyone together. It’s a universal thing – everybody’s got to eat.”

While times have been tough lately on Cuzzo’s catering component, which forced numerous cancellations of larger corporate events and weddings, the business was fortunate to recently receive governmental financial assistance to assist with operations.

“The restaurant part, we’ve pretty much always been a to-go business, so we’re sticking with what we’ve been doing,” explained Johnson. “We just couldn’t let people sit down to eat. We’re still here, we’re still in business and they’ve said over 60 percent of the restaurants in the country went out of business. We’re fortunate to be in that 40 percent.”

Johnson has come a long way from making fast-food pizzas and washing dishes, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to grow his business and learn more about the hospitality and restaurant industry.

“I came from nothing and I just wanted something. I’m always hungry and treat every day like my first day in college or like I’m an intern. I’m hungry for that knowledge – I always want to eat. Keep putting the word out and let people know how important it is [to support] Black businesses. It can be tough sometimes and the only way we can make this work is if we work together. Keep supporting each other and keep the money circulating in the community.”

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