When you walk in, it is like coming home for Thanksgiving, and if you are southern, it is like being in the backyard at your cousin’s family cookout. From the sweet smelling aroma of creamy corn that is prepared from scratch just to fit inside the middle of the delectable cornbread filling, to the pork bbq falling off the bone, it is no wonder Mert’s Heart and Soul is the go to place when you are in uptown Charlotte.
It is family, quality and good food that brings people together. All of these components add up to something that Mert’s is proud of.
You feel at home.
Leila James, Mert’s manager, has happily been serving Mert’s customers for eight years and raves about the food.
“Everybody likes the cornbread. It’s the number one best selling item on our menu. It’s also multi-purpose. You can eat it with your meal, as an appetizer, dessert or even alone.”
Besides the cornbread, salmon cakes are the runner up. The crispy crusted layer filled with their very own cajun trinity (celery, onions and peppers) alongside a savory remoulade sauce is the reason why. It’s a “daily fixin.”
You will not find just one particular ethnicity here because everyone comes here. James says she finds “All people from different walks of life. Asians, latinos, black, white, you name it. It’s not about your color, it’s about where you’re from and what kind of food you grew up around that matters.”
Mert’s pride themselves with the quality of food that they cater to each customer. Their menu’s logo “good food…good friends,” automatically invites you to turn the page.
It is a short but sweet menu, which is something that the owner James Bazelle prides himself in. James’ face lit up as she attested to Bazelle’s want for quality food while allowing a high turnover rate to take place. ” I think that’s what makes Mert’s so successful.”
Its seems as though Mert’s has been open forever because of its family touch, but Mert’s is only 14 years old, with a birthday in July.
They started out as a small restaurant inside the hotel Days Inn, off of Union and Tryon, and even had the different name “Georgia on Tryon.”
“James [Bazelle] wanted a place for family and friends to gather for lunch,” says James. What turned his small dream into something even he couldn’t imagine was a dear friend of his named Mertyl.
Mertyl and Bazelle sat for hours inside Georgia on Tryon. James would bring her a cup of coffee and they would spend the entire day chatting. However, in 1998 everything changed.
Mertyl was terminally ill and eventually passed away.
It was the same year that Bazelle decided to expand his small business right in the center of uptown off of North College Street and Fifth Street. “Mertyl had so much heart, she had so much soul,” Leila recounts.
It was a no brainer that Bazelle would soon find “Mert’s Heart and Soul” to be the name of his successful restaurant.
One of the biggest reasons Mert’s is thriving is due to their low turnover rate with employees. Everyone has been working here for years.
As a frequent customer, seeing the cook since attending UNC Charlotte was an indescribable feeling. And certainly customers have that same reaction.
Jamie Pointer, a resident of Charlotte and recent graduate says, “Coming to Mert’s makes me realize home isn’t really that far. I’m from New Jersey, but when I walk in here it’s like I can feel my dad’s spirit in the kitchen. I can feel everyone’s presence with me. It’s one of the main reasons that draws me back here at least three times a month.”
The ambiance alone will entice you. The deep warmth of yellows, maroons, blues and reds draws you into the calm, serene ambiance that employees hope customers feel each time they experience Mert’s. From the famous pictures in black and white hanging from wall to wall, the plaques of awards for “best vegetarian chili,” and a fifth grader’s essay raving about “the deep green collard greens smothered with juicy red tomatoes,” it screams reputable.
Locals are not the only ones that pride themselves in eating here at least twice a week. Celebrities like Marsha Ambrosia, Trey Songz and even the Foo Fighters have joined the wagon and experienced the down home feeling.
Mert’s also prides themselves in their desserts. The desserts are not made by the cooks, but by three local women who devote their time in making sweet, flaky and moist cakes. These cakes sell out entirely too quickly.
“We receive the cakes twice a week, so if you come in on Thursday, or really the weekend looking for our best selling red velvet cake, then you most likely will find that they are sold out,” James says.
Lisa Palmer, who owns a local bakery shop in Charlotte, makes each cake from scratch, even down to the icing. She sells her famous coconut, chocolate, lemon and of course red velvet cake through Mert’s.
Laura Fox, the mayor’s wife, also makes Mert’s cakes. She puts all her love into making the sweet almond pound cake, another favorite by customers. And of course she makes the delectable, almost beguile orangejuice pound cake. It’s no wonder the menu says “save room for dessert.”
You have to.