Charlotte’s Classic Eats
As new restaurants open every day in Charlotte, it’s easy to forget about the old standbys, the places that have grown up alongside the Queen City. Our Charlotte’s Classic Eats series highlights the places that you have frequented for years, reminding us why they have stood the test of time.
Wander into any shopping mall across the Carolinas and you’ll likely find a Belk — or “Belk’s,” as most Southerners insist on calling the department store founded in Monroe in 1888. But venture into the basement of the SouthPark Belk, and you’ ll find what makes it perhaps the most unique Belk store — tucked behind the bedding and kitchen electrics section is a restaurant and wine shop.
For decades, Arthur’s Restaurant and Wine Shop has been a hit with wine aficionados and shoppers in search of a hearty lunch or dinner. It wasn’t always located in the South Park Belk, however. Arthur Pressman operated the original Arthur’s Gourmet Shop at the corner of Church and Fifth Streets in the former Clayton Hotel.
Current owner Steve Balsley and his two brothers purchased the wine shop in 1972. “We were at Church Street for a year when the building was bought to be paved over for a parking lot,” Balsley told CharlotteFive. “By that time, we had started selling sandwiches for 49 cents because we couldn’t make a profit as just a bottle shop. Soft drinks were a nickel, maybe a dime.”
Lots of young Charlotte Observer reporters ate at Arthur’s; hearing about the predicament, they ran a story. The same day, people called Arthur’s to offer rental space, including a bank offering its vault! Arthur’s didn’t move far — just across the street, to be exact. “We moved into the basement of Ivey’s, a rival department store of Belk that was started around the turn of the century,” Balsley said.
Growing with Ivey’s
When Balsley and his brothers purchased Arthur’s, it sold individual cigarettes, combs and Goody’s Powder. “They were selling anything to make a buck. We were the largest distributor of Roma Rocket wine in North Carolina,” Balsley laughed. According to the June 22, 1973, edition of The Charlotte Observer, the original Arthur’s Gourmet Shop “catered to winos who drank in the graveyard across Church Street.”
The brothers had dreams of turning Arthur’s into a fine bottle shop, but soon realized they needed to sell food to supplement wine sales. In 1974, Arthur’s moved with Ivey’s to South Park Mall and started growing. At one point in time, Arthur’s operated restaurants in Ivey’s locations in Durham; greensboro; Greenville, SC; Myrtle Beach and Raleigh. The Charlotte location, which is now the only one in operation, remained the flagship.
“Dillard’s bought Ivey’s and decided to shut us down,” Balsley said. “Mr. Ivey calls Mr. Belk and asked if they had a spot for us — we moved to Belk in 1990 and have been here ever since.”
Longtime employees like Donna VanCamp have been with the restaurant for equally as long. “I’ve been here 32 years,” VanCamp said. “It’s been a wonderful experience, it’s a great place to work.”
Celebrating 50 years
Arthur’s has its fair share of longtime customers, too. “We’re serving three generations now,” Balsley said. “We’ve got kids who grew up eating here bringing their kids now.” Diners return for grill staples, including burgers, sandwiches and salads. “Our menu is still pretty retro,” Balsley said. “But it works, so why change it?”
Balsley believes that Arthur’s was the first restaurant in Charlotte to serve cheesesteaks. “I moved to Charlotte from Philly when I was 14 so I grew up eating cheesesteaks and hoagies. But my favorite menu item is a reuben with a thousand island dressing,” Balsley said.
The wine store is now separate from the restaurant, but just across the basement of Belk. Balsley’s brother is the wine guru — he’s visited Australia, California and New Zealand learning about wine and is happy to share knowledge with customers.
Arthur’s recently had a 50th anniversary party. Longtime customers celebrated from near and far — including the lady who visits Charlotte from Los Angeles twice a year and swings by Arthur’s to purchase sweet tea on each visit.
Next time you work up an appetite shopping at SouthPark Mall, pop into the basement of Belk — you might just find your new favorite cheesesteak, or find yourself wandering through the department store with a glass of wine in hand.
Location: 4400 Sharon Rd, Charlotte, NC 28211
Neighborhood: South Park
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, 11am-5pm
This story was originally published June 21, 2022 6:00 AM.