2019 Charlotteans of the Year: UNC Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois

Education, news

After 15 years bringing UNCC and Charlotte closer, the chancellor of UNC Charlotte steps away after guiding the university through the worst of times. This article is part of Charlotte magazine’s annual Charlotteans of the Year issue.

Photo by Peter Taylor

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS and 38 minutes after a gunman killed two UNC Charlotte students and injured four others, Chancellor Philip Dubois stood behind a microphone on a stage in the center of Dale F. Halton Arena and cried.

“As parents ourselves…” He sniffled and braced himself, hands resting on each side of the lectern. “Lisa and I grieve this senseless loss of young life and share in the anguish of their parents, their families, and you, their friends.”

Dubois looked around the auditorium—a room with more people than seats, rows and rows of students, faculty, and alumni wearing green. “We can’t bring them back,” he said. “But with your help, we will find a way to remember their presence as 49ers.”

The day before—on April 30, the last day of class—he was on a flight to Indianapolis for a meeting of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. The quarterly gathering pulls university heads and board members from across the country, including Dubois, the longest-serving chancellor in the University of North Carolina system and an administrator responsible for a student population of 29,710—the second-largest total enrollment in North Carolina, behind only N.C. State.


Lifelong Friends Open Strudel Shop in Optimist Park


An online exclusive about two friends who opened a takeout bakery in the neighborhood they grew up in.

Photo by me

In the Strudel Shop’s kitchen, Kevin Kelly stretches a sheet of dough over a stainless steel counter and shakes it in a motion that resembles the rolling of ocean waves. Soon the dough will make up the crust for an apple strudel, which he’ll sell from a sliding window on 15th Street in Optimist Park. But for now, Kevin needs a few extra hands to finish the job.

“Dee, grab that corner,” he tells Dee Huang, co-owner of the Strudel Shop and Kevin’s childhood best friend. Dee chuckles and responds, “Yes chef!” Kevin directs his grandmother Ginger to another corner and me to the last corner. Together we pinch and tug on the flour-covered dough and drape it over the edges of the table until it’s so thin, it looks like tablecloth.


Together. Separate. Together Again.

Education, news

This is a longform piece I wrote about a new (and, as you’ll see, old) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools initiative called school pairing.

SUSAN KING THOUGHT about retiring a couple of years ago. She’s in her 60s and has spent the last 40 years teaching first and second grade in the same school district, on the same side of town, in schools two miles apart and just off the same road. She’d built up more than enough time to retire with full benefits.

But she decided to stay. On a Friday in March, King stands in the doorway of her second-grade classroom at Billingsville Elementary and beams as she talks about the 18 six- and seven-year-olds behind her, typing on Chromebooks at their desks. A couple of gray curls hang just above her wire-rimmed glasses. She turns back to face the students and gently says, “You guys are doing great, OK?”

When I visit with King, Billingsville is about eight months into the 2018-19 school year, the first in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ most aggressive attempt in two decades to reverse the effective resegregation of its schools. It’s a big reason King chose not to retire: “We really wanted to make this work.”


Global Feast: 50 Dishes for Adventurous Eaters


Just a few decades ago, finding pho or a gyro was near impossible in Charlotte. In Charlotte magazine’s October issue, I contributed to this massive list of Charlotte’s global options today.

Photo by Peter Taylor

Abugida Feast with Injera

“Growing up here, I got asked crazy questions, off-the-wall questions,” says Yodite Tesafye, who owns Abugida Ethiopian Café & Restaurant. She was 15 when her mother moved her and her three siblings from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the United States. As a student at Independence High School, Tesafye says many classmates had a false image of her life in the African country. “They all assumed I saw animals running around … or that we didn’t have food.”

Today, the 35-year-old co-owns Abugida in Plaza Midwood, where she corrects those stereotypes. “For people to learn somebody’s culture, food is the best way.”

Tesafye opened the restaurant in 2017 with her brother Zemaf, who runs the kitchen and serves the city’s best injera, a spongy flatbread made from teff flour. The menu has two “feast” options—one with meat ($18), one without ($12)—that come with a sampling of dishes that include gomen (chopped and seasoned collard greens) and yemisir kik wat (split red lentils cooked with berbere sauce). Berbere is the most common seasoning used in Ethiopian dishes; it’s a mix of cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and 19 other spices.

With its many flavors and dishes, an Abugida feast represents the diverse neighborhood around the restaurant—the neighborhood Tesafye calls home. “I think we’re lucky because we’re right in Plaza. Most of this generation, like the people who live around here, they are very adventurous,” she says. Tesafye teaches them to ditch silverware and use injera as a utensil, and to sip strong Ethiopian coffee poured from an ornate clay pot called a jebena. “They want to try new things. So we’re lucky in that sense.”


The Double Lives of Charlotte Roller Derby’s Players


A fun profile of the Charlotte Roller Derby team and the players’ day jobs.

Photo by Rusty Williams

RYE UNZIPS HER GYM BAG and pulls out the gear: knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, mouthguard, helmet, and a pair of slick, black skates with bamboo-colored wheels. She spends a couple of minutes explaining each item to a dozen people, mostly women, at the Charlotte Roller Derby’s orientation at Kate’s Skating Rink in Gastonia.

Until she’s interrupted by a smiling, 5-foot-2 woman in a black T-shirt and purple yoga shorts and a knot of dreadlocks fixed to the top of her head. “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Ka$h Honey shouts as she gallops to the front of the room to join Rye, a.k.a. Katch Her in the Rye. “Let’s do it!”

Orientation is over.

On the rink, skaters divide into two teams, mixing the experienced players with newer ones. The goal is to win “jams,” or episodes within the game. Each side designates a “jammer” to push past four blockers in order to score, one point for each pass. It’s a full-contact sport that ends after two half-hour periods.

Ka$h (yes, with a dollar sign) watches with me from the sidelines to prevent reinjuring a shoulder she hurt years ago before roller derby. She explains the rules while Princess Slaya jumps past a few blockers to score another batch of points and President Beer skates backwards as she holds the other team’s jammer. Ka$h is itching to get on the rink.

“You gonna play?” a teammate asks her.

Ka$h smirks and cracks the tab of a Monster energy drink. “Maybeee.” 


Memories of Dogfish Head

Delaware, Essay, travel

This travel essay was part of Charlotte magazine’s July issue about breweries worth a road-trip. I’m originally from Delaware so it was really special to write about the most prominent brewery from the state, Dogfish Head.

Courtesy of Dogfish Head Brewery

THE FIRST THING I NOTICE as I pull up to Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery isn’t the scent of malt or hops filling the air of small-town Milton, or the giant stainless steel fermentation silos outside. It’s the steampunk treehouse with wiry, rusty branches and a spiral staircase that leads to a hexagonal house planted on the lawn.

The treehouse was first built as an art installation for Burning Man, the massive desert alt-festival, then found its way to Coachella, the massive desert mainstream festival. With no permanent home, Dogfish Head took in the 40-foot-tall steel sculpture, and it’s remained on site since 2010. The eight-ton treehouse isn’t open for guests, but boy, is it fun to look at.

I’m from Delaware, so for me, Dogfish Head is as synonymous with beer as National Bohemian is in Maryland or Bud Light is everywhere. It’s what NoDa Brewing or Olde Mecklenburg Brewery are to Charlotte—but in Delaware, for a long time, we had only one choice. Now we have Mispillion River, Big Oyster, Fordham & Dominion, and about 20 others—remarkable for a state with a population of less than a million.

In my early 20s, I liked Dogfish’s Namaste White so much, I bought Namaste-flavored lip balm from the gift shop. Today, for every birthday and Christmas, my dad still gives me a six-pack of whatever Dogfish has in season. In Charlotte, I scour bottle shops to find the lime green cap with a shark-shaped exclamation point, which signals the ABV is more than 15 percent. The brewery calls it the “Dogfish danger cap.”

I was a year old in 1995, when Sam and Mariah Calagione opened Dogfish Head. As a young kid, I remember my dad drinking their flagship 90 Minute IPA as he cheered for the Redskins—a good beer helped curb the disappointment of Redskins fanhood ever since their 1992 Super Bowl win. Once I was old enough to drink, it was the first beer I tried (beat that, nameless-keg beer).


Teens Take to the Concrete Over Climate Change

Environment, news

A profile on three teenage girls who skip school every Friday to protest climate change.

LUCIA PAULSEN, MARY ELLIS STEVENS, and KATE HARRISON, girls who haven’t yet celebrated their 15th birthdays, stand in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center uptown on a Friday in early May. Around them, a group of about 20 others, mostly teenagers, support the North Carolina Youth Climate Strike, which the three girls have led since early this year. They’re holding signs that say, “System change not climate change” and, “The oceans are rising and so are we,” as Paulsen, Stevens, and Harrison pass around a microphone and call on city leaders to act against climate change—fast.

At 11 a.m., they put down their posters and microphones, cover their mouths with surgical masks, close their eyes, and lie on the concrete. Eleven minutes later, a timer rings, and the protestors stand to address the group again.

The elevens aren’t random numbers. In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that stated policymakers have until 2030, only 11 years—hence the 11 minutes of the Youth Climate Strike’s “die-in” protest—to enact changes to prevent the worst effects of climate change.


Our Barbecue Story


North Carolina has a strong barbecue tradition—but what about Charlotte? In Charlotte magazine’s June issue, we recall the history of six beloved barbecue joints—old and new. I wrote two of the stories for the package.

Photo by Peter Taylor

Courtney’s BBQ

GENE COURTNEY talks about his 20-year-old barbecue business in terms of two eras: before the recession and after. Before 2008, Courtney’s BBQ won just about every regional competition it entered. Business was good: Gene and his wife and co-owner, Janice, had the money to travel from Clover, South Carolina, to Kansas City in 2007 for the American Royal Invitational, where their ribs placed eighth, and keep Courtney’s open only three days a week.

After 2008, regulars who would drive 45 minutes south from Charlotte, Gene’s hometown, to Clover stopped coming. Courtney’s stayed open seven days a week instead of three, but Gene struggled to fill the 160-seat, wood-paneled food hall and its long, community-style tables. Six months after the recession hit, he greeted a smiling customer. He turned to his employees and said, “You see that person smiling? I ain’t seen anybody smile in six months.”


Adrenaline Rush: 18 Adventurous Outings Near Charlotte

Nature, travel

In Charlotte magazine’s April issue, I edited and contributed to our travel feature package about adventurous activities near Charlotte.


Photo by Logan Cyrus

12.  Camp (or glamp)

Adrenaline Meter: ★★

Camping ain’t for everyone. Don’t sneak that foam pad under your sleeping bag just yet—here are some other ideas for campers of all levels:

Modest: For new campers, or for people who like access to indoor plumbing, try Linville Falls Campground. There are 64 sites available for car camping all within hiking distance of Linville Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of North Carolina.

Industrious: Looking for a night under the stars? Consider hammock camping. Sleep peacefully in your nylon cocoon and wake up as the sun rises. We recommend South Mountain State Park in Connelly Springs.

Cushy: It’s a stretch to even call Treehouse Vineyards’ rentals camping, but it’s outside, so close enough. These adorable treehouses lofted above Monroe are available starting at $125 a night and come with easy access to wine tasting (301 Bay St., Monroe).


Restaurant Review: Loyalist Market


A restaurant review from Charlotte magazine’s April issue about a gourmet cheese shop and café in Matthews, North Carolina.


Photo by Peter Taylor

“ANY OBJECTIONS?” a server asks after taking my order for a cheese board. What a silly question.

I give her some of my preferences—harder cheeses like pecorino Romano over brie—but cheese is cheese. I have no objections.

On any given day, The Loyalist Market offers more than 40 cheeses and 20 charcuterie options, and owner Chris Sottile can tell you about each of the selections displayed in the glass case. “I get chocolatey bacon notes,” he says, as if he’s just taken a bite of the Bayley Hazen Blue cheese. “A little bit of licorice and earthy notes on the back end … It’s got a little bit more funk on it than some.”