During the week, this 36-year-old father of two splits his time living in a condo above the original Charlotte 5Church, and on weekends he’s in a house just a 10-minute walk from the restaurant’s equally popular second location in Charleston. (He and his partners also own Nan and Byron’s in South End.) Recently named one of the 40 Rising Stars under 40 in the Restaurant Industry by FSR Magazine, Whalen and his team are about to open a third 5Church—the biggest one yet—in booming Midtown Atlanta. We sat down with the Charlotte native to get his take on the fast-changing Charlotte food scene and some of his favorite tastes.
How has Charlotte’s restaurant scene evolved over the last few years?
I think it’s pretty mind blowing to see how quickly Charlotte has developed its food scene. We certainly don’t get the national press, but the talent is here. If you look at the guys over at Kindred or Bruce Moffett, who’s been doing it for years, there is lots of talent in this city. It’s a city that has been dominated by big corporate steakhouses and restaurants, and now us and several other places have helped move it forward. Now, people can come in and say, “These guys have done it. So can we. It’s worth the risk.” Once you prove it can happen, you start to see an influx of talent—like Corkbuzz. There are a lot of things happening now as a result of a few places.
5Church has been the place to see and be seen ever since you opened with a parade of celebs coming through. Who are some of your favorites?
Certainly, when Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan were in the restaurant, that was pretty exciting, even though I’m a Red Sox fan. During the DNC we had a table with Zach Braff, Elizabeth Banks, and Jessica Alba—that was mind blowing. To have regulars like Michael Jordan is just stunning. These are people I grew up watching, and now it’s pretty exciting to see.
What are some of your favorite places in Charlotte?
We have two little ones so date nights are tough, but I really like the Melting Pot, so they can cook their own foods; it’s fun for them. I love Sushi Guru in SouthPark—it’s terrific. And I love the new pizza place at the Metropolitan (Pizzeria Omaggio). It’s really tasty pizza with a thin crust. And, of course, I love our signature lamb burger and our filet at 5Church.
Photo courtesy of 5Church.