Food & DrinkFood Features

Brandon Brewton Resumes a Family Legacy with Brewton’s Cafe

Double Oaks eatery fills a late-night void in the local food scene

Chef Brandon Brewton works on some crab fries in his kitchen. (Photo by Grant Baldwni)

Growing up in north Charlotte’s Double Oaks neighborhood, Chef Brandon Brewton was around food all the time. But there were no culinary professionals in his family, only community leaders.

On Tuesday and Wednesdays each week, Brewton would help his grandmother, Pastor Barbara Brewton-Cameron, serve thousands of meals to neighbors in need, be they unhoused or folks who just needed a bite to eat. Brewton-Cameron launched Community Outreach Christian Ministries in the early 1990s. It became the focal point from which she worked to clean up the crime-ridden neighborhood where her husband was shot and killed while walking home from work one night.

The church also served as a food pantry, which is where Brandon Brewton first learned how food plays a role in building community.

“Growing up seeing that, you see a lot of different walks of life and you begin to appreciate all people and you build a sense of compassion that’s unmatched just for people,” he said.

“Sometimes I overextend myself and help people that maybe I shouldn’t be helping and it will burn you a little bit, but it’s just in me, you know what I mean?” he continued, laughing. “That’s just one of those things that I just grew up seeing; always give, always try to help somebody else. It ain’t all about yourself.”

I met with Brandon on Brewton Drive, named in honor of his grandmother. We sat outside Brewton’s Cafe, his small takeout kitchen where every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night he serves a long line of late-night customers, remaining open until 4 a.m. on Sunday mornings in a city without many late-night options.

Located next to his grandmother’s old church, now the Barbara Brewton Hope For Harvest Youth Center, Brandon keeps tradition alive by serving his community and keeping a presence on the street where his family has already built such a strong legacy.

How food became Brewton’s career path

As a younger man, Brandon Brewton never imagined that a culinary life was in the cards for him. After high school, he attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, but quickly decided it wasn’t for him.

He moved to Atlanta, where he worked for some time at the since-closed Food 101. He didn’t think of the restaurant industry as a career path, however, just one of his three jobs alongside Starbucks and a local car wash.
One day he was voicing his frustration with his life’s lack of direction to his cousin Jarvis, who suggested culinary school.

“He was like, ‘Hey, man, why don’t you sign up for school? You’re always cooking. You love it. Why don’t you just do that?’” Brewton recalled. “At that time, I didn’t know you could even really make money cooking, because I’ve only seen people cooking for the homeless.”

Brewton and Jasmine Delva at Brewton’s Cafe with their son. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The very next day after that conversation he applied to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta.

“From there, man, it was from the ground up,” he said.

Always the proactive type, Brewton took a bit of a shortcut in launching his first catering business — taking a client before the business even existed.

He had been in school for a year when he came across a woman at a gas station who was complaining that she needed a caterer for a wedding after hers had pulled out.

“I was like, man, I know I want to do a catering business. I ain’t got nothing to do it with, but I went up to her and said, ‘Yeah, I’m a caterer, ma’am.’ And she was like, ‘Oh yeah? Let me get one of your cards.’

“I said, ‘You know what? I ran out of cards. But when I get home, I’ll make sure I send you something over.’ So I went home and came up with the name of the business.”

And that’s how Blessed Hands Meals was born.

Back to Brewton Drive

Brewton built up his skills doing catering and running a successful meal-prep business in Atlanta.
He met Jasmine Velda during a trip home to Charlotte. The two began seeing each other, and eventually she became pregnant, inspiring Brewton to move back to the Queen City.

He found himself back at the church where his grandmother, who passed away in 2008, had built a legacy. By then, his aunt Catherine Brewton had launched the Hope for Harvest Youth Center at the property.

“I came back and helped here, helped them get stuff together, because I just know this building inside and out,” he said. “My aunt lives in Atlanta, so I would be basically her feet on the ground and just get this building back to where it needed to be. And then I said, ‘Man, I got to get back to cooking because this ain’t it.’”

He relaunched his catering and meal-prep venture, seeing plenty of success.

Working on the crab-stuffed salmon with Brandon Brewton and Jasmine Delva. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Meal prepping was all the rage at this time, around 2017, and it was keeping him afloat, but the schedule proved too demanding.

“Once I found out I was about to have a baby, I started to think about my time,” he said. “[With meal prepping] you’ve got to have it at the [client’s] house at this time. I got to deliver over here, deliver over here. She might be getting sick, you know what I mean? So it was just a lot to handle.”

He opened Brewton’s Cafe as a way to supplement his income and step back from the meal prepping. His first year at the cafe was hard going.

“It took me a while,” he said. “I was here in Charlotte trying to figure out cooking, opening up the restaurant, nobody here, you know what I mean? You go through that time where you open it up and you got people saying it’s good but the word ain’t getting out.”

The Brewton team. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Once they got through the pregnancy together, Brewton was able to take catering gigs in cities like Atlanta and Las Vegas, helped along by a network of friends and fellow chefs like Chef Emili “Milly” Medley, a two-time Hell’s Kitchen contestant who worked in Philadelphia at the time.

The jobs paid well and helped him get through the period when Brewton’s Cafe was yet to take off.

“Thank God for the friends I met,” Brewton said. “They kept me busy where I wasn’t just dead in the water. So anytime it slowed here, I just kind of went on the road and worked.”

Social media changed word-of-mouth to virality

Brewton continued splitting his time between the road and Brewton’s Cafe until 2020, when the COVID pandemic struck. While Brewton acknowledges the awful effects of COVID on the population as a whole, he can’t deny that business boomed for him during that time.

It makes sense; people were looking for outdoor spaces like the one Brewton’s provides, with its walk-up window, six outdoor tables and yard games to keep folks busy while they wait.

Inspired by what he had learned during catering trips, Brewton began to play with the menu, which rotates every two weeks.

Hot honey fried chicken. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

The oxtail Rasta pasta was the first menu item that began to build buzz around the neighborhood and then the city.

“My first wave was word of mouth, because I was like, ‘I ain’t doing any promotion.’ I didn’t have really any money to market it, so it was just word of mouth — telling this person, that person, this person. Facebook was good for me. And then, of course, Cory came, and after that, it took off.”

He’s referring to Cory Wilkins, a local food influencer who runs the popular Daily Special CLT food blog and social media channels, as well as the Black Guys Cook YouTube channel.

Wilkins highlighted Brewton’s Cafe, trying the crab fries, spicy honey mustard wings, hot honey chicken sandwich (a fan favorite), and crab-stuffed salmon alfredo.

Delva — who had been helping in the Brewton’s Cafe kitchen, baking desserts and working alongside the shoestring staff of one to two people — made the strawberry cake that went viral in Wilkins’ Blackguyscook TikTok post. It’s been a huge hit since.

Brewton's Cafe
Brewton Cafe’s crab fries (left), crab stuffed salmon (center) and honey hot fried chicken sandwich (right). (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Another popular menu item as of late has been the lo mein, which Brewton has been working into a number of different dishes.

“People always talking about the menu’s all over the place,” he said, laughing. “I kind of just do things that I like … I love Asian. That’s one of my biggest passions, Asian food. So I try to find a way to incorporate it in there somewhere.”

“Just imagine you’re drunk and you have lo mein at night,” added Delva. “It’s soaking up all of the alcohol. It’s a perfect eat.”

Brewton's Cafe
Jasmine and Brandon bein’ cute. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

That late-night, after-the-bars-close schedule was another aspect of the business inspired by Brewton’s catering travels.

“I got that from Philly and Vegas; they never closed,” Brewton explained. “I’m like, ‘This is the move.’ We was out 2, 3 in the morning. We might have just gotten done with a job and we can go eat. Not no McDonald’s or Waffle House; we can go eat a real meal and they’re open all night. I’m like, ‘Man, Charlotte ain’t got this.’”

The couple say they’ve seen plenty of impersonators pop up since they became popular.

“We started that,” said Velda. “Originally we were the ones open up until 4 a.m. People were like, ‘Y’all are crazy,’ and we was like, ‘No, watch.’

“And sure enough, they saw people that were still out and wanted food, and they just started to open up late. We definitely started a trend.”

The waits can get up to two hours early in the morning, something Brewton couldn’t have imagined back when he was struggling to get people to come to the humble takeout spot.

Throughout the success, however, he has remained true to his family legacy, feeding the children at the Barbara Brewton Hope For Harvest Youth Center summer camp next door for every scheduled meal or snack. For him, it’s one way to continue on in his grandmother’s footsteps.

“Just to know that I’m able to have some piece of what my grandmother started, you know what I mean, and it becomes somewhat successful, I’m happy,” Brewton said. “It’s special to me.”

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