It was without much fanfare that Roy’s Kitchen & Patio quietly opened its doors during the first week of July, again changing the face of a rapidly evolving stretch of North Davidson Street that’s seen the opening of The Goodyear House and Oh My Soul this year.
The new Caribbean spot is taking over the building that until recently housed Mango’s, and has in fact retained some of that ownership, with former Mango’s owner Roy Grant staying on as a co-owner at his new namesake restaurant.
As co-owner and operator Courtney Nesmith told Queen City Nerve while he worked to prepare the restaurant to begin serving socially distanced diners, a pandemic is no time to showcase a spot where the vibe will be built on coming together rather than standing 6 feet apart.
“We wanted to do a friends and family night last night and a huge grand opening night party this weekend, but between just my partners — not even the management and staff — if we were to throw a party, there would be way too many people in the building,” Nesmith said. “We want people to be comfortable and safe and not even give people the chance to make our restaurant look like we’re not trying to adhere to the suggestions from the CDC and health department.”
That being said, once things become safe to do so, Nesmith and Grant are ready to bring a laid-back party patio vibe to NoDa, while correcting the missteps made at Mango’s and offering up affordable (and consistent) Caribbean fare. As a former consultant, Nesmith came into the project at Roy’s with ideas on how to make things work this time around.
How Roy’s Kitchen & Patio came to be
The Charlotte native began in the service industry as a bartender at bars like Grand Central, Link & Barrel and Fills, all of which are now closed. He moved on to become an assistant general manager at Suite in the Epicentre, eventually taking the same role for other events in the complex such as Alive After 5.
After moving to Jacksonville for a bit to help open a Suite location there, he returned to Charlotte and got involved with the food scene, helping Vida Cantina open their Vida Vida concept at Epicentre.
In 2013, Nesmith left Bar Management Group — which owns Suite, Vida Cantina and other bars and restaurants he had worked with — to go into business for himself as a consultant. He worked with Draught and Prohibition for a number of years, then launched a group called Charlotte’s Industry, which serves as a networking portal for local service industry employees.
Through the group, Nesmith and Diageo brand rep Heather Chaney have worked to connect members who lost their jobs to COVID-19 with resources. Then this summer Nesmith was presented with an opportunity to buy into a large percentage of Roy’s Kitchen & Patio with Grant and two silent partners.
“I just couldn’t pass it up,” he recalled. “I made other companies a lot of money, a lot of successes, and I got this opportunity to put my name behind it and build something up for myself, so I couldn’t pass it up.”
Righting the wrongs of Mango’s
But first, in order to build that name up he had to put his consulting hat back on. According to Nesmith, where things went wrong at Mango’s was with Grant’s tendency to work from memory.
“When Mango’s was open, an area of concern was the consistency of the food,” Nesmith said. “Roy has the recipes in his head. He’s an amazing cook, but if he steps out of the kitchen or if certain people were in the kitchen, you’re getting a different product.”
To fix the issue, Nesmith brought on Richelle Espinosa to take the lead in the kitchen as the executive chef at Roy’s, and Erynn Greer to work as beverage director. They then sat down and worked out recipes that will be followed by whomever is cooking, grilling or mixing, all the way down to the most seemingly rudimentary cocktails.
“We even have our house recipes for basic drinks like a margarita, just because you can go somewhere and ask all the bartenders to make you a margarita and they will taste different unless you direct them to make it a specific way,” Nesmith said. “We want to make sure we’re consistent, because if you’re going to be consistent, you’re going to win.”
Grant brought his Jamaican background to the table and Espinosa her Puerto Rican heritage as together they built out a menu of island fare and rotisserie chicken that comes in island or jerk style.
The menu features appetizers ranging from plantain chips for $6 to housemade shrimp ceviche for $12. In between, there are Espinosa’s empanadas, five Bacalao salt fish fritters, or vegetarian chimichurri tostones for $8. The jerk wings will run you $12.
Sides and salads include Calypso salad, Caribbean pasta salad, collards, rice and pigeon peas, and other items ranging from $3-6.
As for the entrees, dishes include staples like curry goat ($16) and oxtail ($18), along with meals such as the Jamaican Escovitch whole-fish snapper, rubbed down with a secret spicy seasoning, fried and topped with housemade pickles and onions, which costs $25 for one or $35 for two.
In a month or so, Espinosa, who worked as the head chef at Broken Spoke and more recently at Kiki in Plaza Midwood, plans to roll out her crab roll, a buttered Hawaiian roll with crab meat inside.
“We’re taking the good recipes that were great with Roy, we’re implementing Richelle’s new recipes, and she’s helping us operate as a business should and know your cost, and still put something out there that’s affordable for people to enjoy, but make sure that we can keep the lights on and stay open as well,” Nesmith said. “We want people to feel like they’re back at that bar that they went to on vacation that one time, where the customer service was unbelievable but also the food was unbelievable.”
A vacation vibe in NoDa
To help with the vacation vibes, Nesmith and the crew at Roy’s Kitchen & Patio plan to begin rolling out regular programming in about a month, or as soon as COVID-19 allows them to do so.
When they do begin, they’ll be hosting a crab leg and shrimp boil every Monday night with a DJ playing reggae rock music. Thursdays will feature a more laid-back beach vibe, with Nesmith using Calypso, Jack Johnson and Jimmy Buffet as examples of what you’ll here during the weekend pregame, and eventually Sundays will feature brunch parties with DJs and live music, as well.
On all other days and nights, DJs will play reggaetón, dancehall, Afrobeat with the above-mentioned music mixed in here and there. Over time, they’ll introduce ping-pong, cornhole and other fun additions to the back patio, which was newly built after Mango’s closed. Nesmith said that, especially with the sudden closure of Solstice Tavern in November 2018, NoDa has been in need of a good back patio to hang out on during summer days.
“We want to make sure we’re not copycatting what Goodyear House is doing and what Oh My Soul is doing, because they’re both doing beautiful things over there, so we want to add something else; we want to add some interactive-ness back here on this back patio,” he said.
As much as it adds to the stress of opening a restaurant to be doing it during a pandemic, at a time when nobody is sure of how safe it is to be out and businesses close every week as employees test positive for COVID-19, the patio seems to be a much safer play.
“Right now what’s happening is everybody’s coming from [South End, SouthPark and Uptown] to NoDa, to the patio areas,” Nesmith said, his mind still clearly in consultant mode. “Neighborhood bars are winning right now, and also with people not going to their corporate jobs downtown, they’re staying in their neighborhoods and venturing to other neighborhoods. So we see this being a win for us because people are going to come in, they’re going to enjoy the experience and want to come back and honestly just bounce up and down North Davidson Street.”
Playing it safe in the pandemic
Still Nesmith and Grant aren’t lackadaisical about the safety of customers and staff. They’ll be keeping a close eye on updates from health departments locally, statewide and nationally.
“We’re playing it by ear, but we’re going to be quickly responsive to everything,” Nesmith said, adding that they plan to hold a grand opening party, but not until later on when it’s completely safe to do so.
Until then, they’ll take visitors as they come, making sure to keep everyone distanced, even if it goes against the vacation party vibe that will one day ruminate throughout the restaurant.
“One of our sayings is, we’re the only concept of our likeness over here. We’re basically a small island with a lot of flavor,” Nesmith said.
Now with everything in place and all the moves taken to correct the mistakes of Mango’s, it will just take patience and practical policies to ensure that everyone gets off the island safely.