“Try Something Different” With James Bazelle at Mert’s Heart & Soul

by Sam Perley

A number of years ago, James Bazelle won the right to buy a building for his restaurant in North Davidson, but was denied a loan from the bank and told, “nothing would ever work” in this particular neighborhood.

Thanks to support from Bank of America, Mert’s Heart & Soul – originally dubbed ‘Georgia on Tryon’ – finally found a home at 214 N. College Street, which is less than a five-minute walk from Spectrum Center in uptown Charlotte. Specializing in Southern style food, the origins of Mert’s stretch back almost two decades.

“We founded Mert’s Heart & Soul in 1998 and the mission is to serve good Southern food,” said Bazelle. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done over the past 22 years. [When we started], I didn’t think people appreciated Southern cooking as much. The name came from a customer of ours, Myrtle Lockhart, who passed away before we opened. Her nickname was Mert’s. I was trying to think of something Southern and I remembered her nickname. That was it right there.”

Serving brunch, lunch and dinner, Mert’s menu is loaded with plenty of tasty options, including po’ Boys, fried chicken, catfish, salads and a large assortment of different vegetable dishes.

“My personal favorite dish is red beans and rice with turkey kielbasa,” said Bazelle. “I love beans and rice and the combination of those items together is wonderful. What’s different about our food is the ingredients. We have a lot of Latin influence in our food. A majority of our vegetables are Vegan-conscious with no animal fat and very little margarine in anything.”

He added, “The people that love our food love the flavor. I hate going to a restaurant where the food looks delicious, I take a bite and there’s no flavor. If you need to add condiments, it’s a problem. Not everyone has to have it, but being Southern, we all like a hot sauce on our food.”

Known for its decorated, vibrant interior featuring old theater signage and pictures of prominent Black figures, Mert’s has weathered the pandemic with more online ordering and amped up promotion on social media.

“We’re simply trying to survive in this period,” said Bazelle. “Being in this neighborhood is really hard, because we don’t have a lot of people living here like NoDa or Plaza Midwood. The best way to support us is to come visit us or order online. We have outside and inside seating. We’re open seven days a week and just shortened our hours a little bit.”

“Try something different once a week. If that means going to a minority-owned restaurant whether it be Black, Asian or Hispanic, then do it. There are lots of Black-owned restaurants around the city. We want everyone to feel like they’re coming home, or at your aunt’s house with family. We stress service and trying to be as family-like with our customers when they come in. You’re going to get good food and you want great service as well.”

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