What began as a smart business move during the pandemic lockdown for restaurants has transformed into so much more – a labor of love really, as restaurants in the Lake Norman area have donated both time and nourishment to neighbors who need it most.
“When the Governor closed down all restaurants in March 2020, we found ourselves – like other small businesses – standing around waiting for someone to call in an order,” explains Nelson Bass, owner of Blu Star Grill. By April 2020, we were in the middle of the lockdown and realized we couldn’t use all the supplies we had purchased, and it seemed like a shame to throw away food.”
Nelson soon received a call from Davidson Methodist Church, offering him enough money to feed 100 homeless neighbors for one night, in the Charlotte area.
Long story short, it was an amazing idea!
“They had a little money, and I had some food that needed to be used,” Nelson adds. “We teamed up a couple of times and after that, my wife, Carolyn, and I decided we needed to do that on a regular basis. Since the Blu Star dining room was empty (as no one was allowed to eat inside), we set up a production line using the dining room tables and went from there!”
As members of Bethel Presbyterian Church in Cornelius, Nelson and Carolyn knew of Heath Burchett’s work with Watchmen of the Streets, an outreach ministry of Habit Missions, and they immediately reached out to offer meals for his volunteers to deliver to homeless neighbors. Their production line was already in place – and they were ready to grow!
Even after they were able to re-open the dining room at Blu Star Grill to the public, the ministry lived on.
“Fast forward to late 2022, and we were still doing meals for WOTS to distribute,” says Nelson. “The need for food keeps growing, and even though we had pushed out more than 2,500 meals by then, it was just a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed. My wife and I are very blessed in life, and we survived all the lockdowns, coming out whole on the other side and doing a great business in the restaurant.”
But, the reality was that they couldn’t do enough alone. Nelson thought of his many friends in the restaurant business, who had also survived the pandemic and were also grateful.
“I contacted Nick Bonarrigo, owner of Mi Amiche, told him about our mission, and his response was ‘Yes! When do you need it?’” Nelson explains. “I then visited Stacy White at Famous Toastery across the street from my restaurant, and she was onboard immediately. Together, we were donating more meals as a group than I could by myself.”
“Fast forward again a few more months, and once again we realized we needed more meals. We talked to Wes Choplin at Choplin’s and discovered he had donated to WOTS some years back and was ready to jump on board with us,” says Nelson. “Now, we have four restaurants providing high-quality restaurant meals for our homeless neighbors who are cared for by WOTS.”
Nelson adds that while they are all competing for customers in the same market, each restaurant is different. From the classic American style of Blu Star Grill and Italian flair of Mi Amiche, to the freshest breakfast, brunch and lunch options at Famous Toastery and delectable seafood and steaks at Choplin’s, all want to give back to the community that supports their local businesses.
And, the group is always looking for like-minded local restaurants to join their efforts! All four dining establishments will have gift baskets available from October 1st through November 4th where customers can buy $5 raffle tickets for a chance to win. Each basket contains $600 worth of gift cards from local retailers who want to help raise money for our homeless neighbors, and 100% of ticket sales go to WOTS to purchase sleeping bags, tarps, tents and other supplies that are vital to help our friends survive the cold winter ahead.
For more information on becoming involved with Watchmen of the Streets and the amazing efforts of these fine restaurants, contact Heath Burchett at Habitmissions@gmail.com or visit Watchmenofthestreets.com.
Show your own support for local by visiting Blu Star Grill at 120 Marketplace Avenue in Mooresville, Mi Amiche at 350 Morrison Plantation Parkway in Mooresville, Famous Toastery at 134 Mooresville Commons Way in Mooresville, and Choplin’s at 19700 One Norman Boulevard in Cornelius, and follow them on Facebook.