Plenty of people are taking unforeseen unemployment circumstances as an opportunity at obtaining or creating a dream job. When Charlotte's Jay Tilyard, known to many for his work with the band Iron Cordoba, lost his job at Stuart Dean, he decided it was time to try and make his dream of owning a neighborhood bar/music venue a reality. Once everything fell into place with the location, it was just a matter of putting it all together — literally.
The Chop Shop, which opened in May in NoDa, is located on 35th Street, over the railroad tracks behind Cabo Fish Taco. The 7,000-square-foot bar/venue can be found in a refurbished factory building with its own parking lot off the beaten path and, perhaps, "on the wrong side of the tracks," but that's just how Tilyard likes it.
"I like being out of the way — people come here because they want to be here and not because it's just the next stop on the road," he says. "I know a music venue can be a headache, so I really just want a place for people to kick it and not need to be here because there's music. I wanted it to look industrial, and I know the area has missed Fat City so I took some cues from that."
It's been a labor of love for Tilyard, who has put plenty of blood, sweat, tears and cash into creating The Chop Shop. He emptied his retirement funds, maxed out credit cards, used his savings and got plenty of help from friends — Matt Gerin, Doug Gerin, Bob Davis and Tracie Nasta, among them.
"There's been a select group of people who helped out through thick and thin and others who have been here at the right times to contribute," Tilyard, who estimates taking only seven days off in the last year, says. He averaged 12-hour days and had plenty of 22-hour stretches, too.
A lot of the pieces of the place have come together via luck, necessity or other invention. Tilyard refers to most of it as the "Tao of Pooh" philosophy. "Pooh just goes where he goes and deals with things as they happen," he says. "It all came together as the world wanted it to. Everything in here was that way."
Aside from bigger items like artist murals and a front bumper with headlights in the men's restroom, you might notice the kegs that have been turned into bar stools or the oil drums made into tables. There are smaller oil drums as keg towers, old dentist cabinets behind the bar, a seating area made up of Cadillac bench chairs and the sliding seat from a pickup truck at the bar. A sound console from a studio that Tilyard opened 16 years ago is now in the venue. An old electrical box was rewired for the venue's lighting and also includes a "last call horn" that tends to startle patrons due to its volume. There are lockers so, for example, women don't have to worry about their purses.
They've held a clothing swap, bikini contest and other events of all kinds including free oil changes to patrons who brought in an oil filter and oil. You can also peek through a window into an attached garage.
"We opened because we had to and wanted to get the cash flow going the other way," Tilyard says. "It looks done, but there's still a lot that has to be done — the sound and lighting will get better."
While the plans were to have music and bands whenever someone good was available, it's quickly turning into a regular thing. There are DJs that spin every Wednesday for "Wednesday Humps You" and bands of all genres filling up the weekend calendar into August.
Tilyard hopes some concerts become bigger events thanks to the options and visual aspects of the Chop Shop. He says he'd love for a rockabilly group to put a hot rod in the garage to either be worked on or offer burnouts at the right time. He says Iron Cordoba events will also take place at the club.
The building is 17,000 square feet total, with the potential of a larger area opening for bigger shows in the future, if all goes well. The current capacity of the membership-required club — it's a simple appplication process because no food is served — is roughly 400 people, which Tilyard feels puts him in a unique spot in the Charlotte music scene.
"I think the place will speak for itself and draw its own crowd," he says. "I don't want to pull from the neighborhood and music scene, but add to it. I want to be a stepping stone along the way for bands growing their crowd — go from Snug Harbor to us to the Visulite to the Neighborhood Theatre. I feel that we're just a spot in the chain."