It was the arts that beckoned Penny Craver to Plaza Midwood in the early 2000s. For the Tremont Music Hall founder, the Charlotte neighborhood offered an affordable utopia for the creative. In 2002, Craver took that comfort to a new level when she co-founded Dish — a restaurant that reflected the neighborhood's relationship with the arts and the unspoken 'Everyone is welcome' policy with a menu of Southern-style comfort food. According to Craver, the arts were ultimately what spared the neighborhood in the aftermath of House Bill 2 passing.
"People are not tolerant of bigotry in this neighborhood," Craver explains. "Everyone is welcome in this community and in the businesses here, and we want to keep it that way."
However, Craver worries that Plaza Midwood's future as a safe haven for artists may be at risk: "I can tell you from personal experience, musicians tend not to make a lot of money," she says. "You used to be able to get a decent apartment for $500. But now there's a gentrification taking place, and everyone that was drawn to the neighborhood will eventually be pushed out."
Craver tells us more about what makes Plaza Midwood great, why its future deserves protecting, and how she's doing her part to keep the neighborhood's spirit alive at Dish.
Creative Loafing: As a business owner, how have you felt the effect of HB2 at Dish or in the Plaza Midwood community?
Penny Craver: I'm just speaking for myself but I don't think I have been affected. People come in and see the diversity we have in this restaurant and think, 'This is not gonna be a place that upholds HB2.' We have a sign on our door that says "Equality means business." I say everybody is welcome. We have inclusive restrooms. I don't care who you are, just don't pee on the seat and I'll be fine. It's evident in our employees and our decor that we're not some stuck-up place. Walk in this restaurant and you'll see males, females, LGBTQ, old, young, entire families. It's somewhere people can come and feel comfortable. Whether they have tattoos, whatever their sexuality is, whatever their economic status is, it doesn't matter to us. If you like good food, you're welcome here.
As a Charlotte native, how have you seen the city evolve to embrace diversity and acceptance, and how can we continue that evolution despite HB2?
Plaza Midwood started before other communities primarily because it was a diverse community. We've always been the little Bohemia of Charlotte, much more so than other places that might pretend to be that way, but we truly are. We're a neighborhood restaurant; the restaurant is a reflection of the neighborhood. We have tons of diversity in the neighborhood. I go into other neighborhoods and it's just weird: 'Oh gosh, this is really cookie cutter.' Not in Plaza Midwood. People come here to feel comfortable. I hope that people will vote in November and remember everything that Charlotte lost because of bigotry in Raleigh. We hold our future in our hands, via the vote, so I hope people will get out and vote.
Dish has a menu of Southern comfort food that goes hand-in-hand with the welcoming environment. What went into creating the menu?
We're a Southern state and a Southern community, and this is Southern food we grew up on, back when people used to cook. We had meatloaf once a week, salmon patties once a week, Hamburger Helper once a week, chicken and dumplings once a week. I think people — even if they're not from here — once they realize it's comfort food, they end up making it their own. Everybody likes good food. No matter who you are, you're gonna like it here and you should feel comfortable. If you can't feel comfortable here, I don't know where you can.