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3 questions with Tia Bazzelle, Mert's kitchen manager

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If you've ever been to Mert's Heart and Soul restaurant in the heart of Uptown Charlotte, chances are you've seen her. Tia Bazzelle is the daughter of Mert's owner James Bazzelle and has helped her father in the popular Southern eatery since she was 15 years old. Now, as kitchen manager, the Johnson and Wales graduate continues to enjoy working alongside her father and has dreams of taking Mert's to the next level.

Creative Loafing: How did you become involved in the family business?

Tia Bazelle: Technically, I started working for my father at age 15, but I was helping at like 12. I worked my way up from the bottom. I had to run food, play hostess and serve tables. From there, I decided I wanted to cook. I always loved food and loved cooking and I still remember the first hamburger I made for me and my brother. I burned the mess out of myself! [laughs] But I started getting more into it in high school and my dad showed me how to do things, so by the time I got to Johnson and Wales, 85 percent of the people in my class didn't have the experience I had and I didn't tell them. I would just fly through things and people would be like, how did she do that?

What's it like working with your father and how do you balance your personal and professional relationship?

We don't work together as much as we used to because now he only works on the two days that I'm off, but when we do work together, it can't run any smoother because it's like having his mini-me. It's like magic. Tickets come in and he doesn't even have to say anything to me, but I know what I need to do. It's not a bunch of talking. It's just a flow. Nobody can do it the way me and my father can.

At the end of the day, I'm a daddy's girl. I've always been one. Anything my dad does, I love it. Sometimes we bump heads because I'm new school and he's old school and I'm like, "Come on, Dad, let's switch it up; it's 2010!" [laughs] But other than that, that's really the only aggravation.

You have a 1-year-old son, London; do you think one day he'll follow in your footsteps and run the family business, and where do you see Mert's by the time he's older?

I tell him all the time, "You're only one, but wait until you turn 15, you'll be in here passing out menus." He doesn't understand it but I tell him all the time, "One day you'll have a job at Mert's." It gets really hard to balance the restaurant and my son and to still have a little time for myself, but I find a way to work it. It's my destiny. Dad's dream was to have Mert's; my dream is to franchise it. We get people in from all over the world, literally — Japan, Amsterdam, all over — and they all say, "You should have Mert's in our country," and one day we will.

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