It’s no secret that Charlotte, North Carolina, delivers on attractions, dining, and nightlife, but it’s the culinary artists and visionaries who are creating moments and moving this city forward in a progressive direction. From a family of chocolate connoisseurs to a kombucha king, here are a few of the Queen City’s greatest game changers.
Cut Chop Serve
Interview with David Rudel, Owner
With clients like Greg Olsen and The Avett Brothers, Cut Chop Serve came out of the woodwork in 2017 after owner David Rudel decided the corporate world wasn’t for him. “I spent six years ascending the corporate ladder, creating international business opportunities for the oil and gas industry, but the void between my purpose and work had never been greater.” Even growing up, he was always building and reconstructing things. A maker at heart, Rudel made it his mission to design a business around being environmentally friendly. And he’s done just that with Cut Chop Serve. Rudel “up-cycles” rescued lumber and gives it a second life through the creation of cutting boards, custom furniture, wall art, and engravings.
How did Cut Chop Serve get started?
I didn’t think the impact that I was having in the oil and gas business development role was one that I wanted to have—thought I could do better. I saw lumber as a commodity similar to oil, and there was an opportunity I thought in Charlotte to not only build a bunch of beautiful things but to save a bunch of trees in the process.
What audience do you cater to?
If you have an interest in entertaining—whether it be someone in the events industry or a restaurant or someone that likes to host large gatherings—our products will really help set the mood for the party.
How has the Charlotte community reacted to your business?
The support has been overwhelming. The city and the people in general are interested in learning more about the materials that go into their products and how the products come about.
What’s one of your most popular items?
The glazer boards generally generate the biggest reaction, at four to six feet. It’s a cheese board that you can put out for the whole party, and there’s enough space to serve everybody. Also, anything with the Queen City crown is going to do great.
To customize a Charlotte cutting board or other product, visit cutchopserve.com.
The Secret Chocolatier
Interview with Robin Ciordia, Partner
To the Dietzes and Ciordias, family is everything—besides chocolate, of course. Over the last decade, The Secret Chocolatier has been creating delectable chocolate desserts for the Charlotte community. With more than thirty years in the pastries and plated desserts industry, chef Bill Dietz saw a niche opportunity to create chocolate by hand in the Queen City. Joined by his wife Karen, daughter Robin Ciordia, and son-in-law Andy Ciordia, the foodie family initially built a following at local farmers markets and retailers; three years later, they’re crafting homemade chocolate five days a week. Here’s how Robin Ciordia and her family turned a sweet dream into reality.
How did The Secret Chocolatier get started?
We built the business around our dad; he’s always been into desserts. In 2008, the restaurant he was working for closed for construction so we started selling out of farmers markets just to give my parents some income. My husband (Andy) and I are more on the business side of things. My dad is still in the kitchen creating everything. We built it as a family.
What’s the meaning behind your name?
When we first started, my dad didn’t want his name on anything, he didn’t want to be known. And he’s still kind of like that…he doesn’t want to come out of the kitchen. That’s just him. He’s the wizard behind everything.
What makes your business special?
Being a family business, and being that we were at the farmers markets ourselves talking to customers. When we started doing classes and things, [customers] would all get to come back into the kitchen with my dad. We make everyone part of our family. That’s just who we are.
What’s one of your bestselling chocolates?
Our toffee. We have a sea-salt buttered toffee. We can’t seem to make enough of it. It tops everything.
The Secret Chocolatier offers hands-on events and classes. Chocolate gifts, truffles, and confections can be found at the corner of Sharon Amity and Providence Road and in retail locations like Julia’s Café & Books, Common Market, Oakwold, and CLT Finds at 7th Street Public Market.
Interview with Alex North, Owner
“We don’t just put things together that taste good. … We put things together to promote optimal vitality,” says Alex North, owner of SUM Bucha, a premium craft and nano-brewery kombucha company in Charlotte. Kombucha (fermented tea) exploded on the scene in the 1990s because of its health benefits, including improving digestion and immune function. Now, the bubbly health beverage can be found everywhere—from breweries to grocery stores. With twenty-five local accounts (and growing), North hopes to continue expanding in North Carolina and along the East Coast. With exciting plans in the works, one thing that won’t be changing is North’s focus on local ingredients and helping others establish a healthy lifestyle.
What makes your kombucha different from the rest?
We do small batches, as opposed to doing 50-gallon or 100-gallon barrels. With 2.5 gallons, small batches provide more of a nutrient-dense kombucha. Also, brewing with yerba mate (an Argentina tea high in B-12 vitamins and antioxidants). I definitely believe in probiotic benefits.
How many different flavors of SUM Bucha do you have?
We always have five flavors. One consists of a seasonal flavor (currently it’s Cider Smash, which is made up of kombucha, apples, cinnamon, and cloves). The other four are our staples: Bee Ginger (water, local organic ginger, and NC honey), Flower Power (kombucha, hibiscus, rose buds, St. John’s wort, holy basil, and agave nectar), Lavender Lemonade (kombucha, freshly juiced lemons, lavender, chamomile, and nettle) and Positively Pineapple (kombucha and freshly juiced pineapples).
What other ways can you use SUM Bucha?
I’ve been able to partner with Zeppelin and Suffolk Punch in South End on a few signature cocktails with our kombucha. It makes a great mixer.
Sip on SUM Bucha at Common Market, Rhino Market, the U.S. National Whitewater Center, and Charlotte-area breweries. For more on SUM Bucha, visit sumbuchaclt.com.
Interview with Mike “Ogre” Weeks, Owner, and Mike Vagianos, Head Designer and Developer
“Call Ogre and have him make that sauce.” That’s the request Mike “Ogre” Weeks got from his friends after slathering his grandmother’s barbecue sauce recipe on grilled dishes at gatherings. In 1999, Weeks cooked twenty-two racks of ribs coated in the sauce on the Sandhill Turf a few miles from the US Open at Pinehurst. A few years later, Weeks was selling buckets out of the trunk of his car at SouthPark Mall. After news of his Ogre Sauce quickly spread, Weeks and his friend of more than forty years, Mike Vagianos, came together and started selling the all-natural, gluten-free sauce in 2013.
Ogre Sauce has two flavors: original and hot. And the condiment can go on pretty much everything—from wings to burgers to even tofu. With a loyal fan base—the team sold 50,000 bottles in 2019—the Charlotte sauce empire is bringing together both grillers and vegans one bottle of Ogre Sauce at a time.
How does Southern culture play into your barbecue sauce planning?
WEEKS: It’s versatile. Barbecue is of course big in the South and in North Carolina… Ogre Sauce toes the line between the different (barbecue) variations. You get to pull out what you like out of it. People that like the vinegar get enough of the vinegar.
VAGIANOS: The versatility was actually surprising. We thought it was just made for ribs, wings… but then when people started sending in their ideas on scrambled eggs, tofu and salmon, it was like, ‘Okay, this could be something more than just Southern barbecue.’
What’s an underrated food and Ogre Sauce pairing?
VAGIANOS: Bacon. Ogre Bacon.
Where can we find Ogre Sauce in Charlotte?
WEEKS: We sell more out of Reid’s Fine Foods and Blackhawk Hardware, and the ‘shop local’ businesses.
Ogre Sauce can also be found at select Whole Foods Market locations and Tijuana Flats restaurants. Bottles can be purchased online at ogresauce.com.