CHARLOTTE – While there are many options for lunch in the area, none are quite like Brown Bag. The Tennessee-based eatery and catering company, which recently opened near Ballantyne, is rooted in faith and the community and strives to serve food with a purpose.
“We’re Christians, so being a part of the community and giving back to that community is not only part of our faith, but everything we do at Brown Bag,” Dan Matthewson, co-owner of the south Charlotte location, said. “We don’t just say that, we live it.”
Although new to North Carolina, Brown Bag has a long history that stems from its humble beginnings in Tennessee. It started in 2009 as a simple catering business by Peter Brown, who was a manager at Qdoba at the time. Brown noticed the catering market lacked fresh, healthy and affordable meals.
Brown started in his home kitchen and later moved to his detached garage. In 2011, he opened Brown Bag’s first location in Knoxville, Tenn., and eventually added the restaurant to serve food for lunch.
Former professional golfer Matt Mincer joined Peter as co-owner in 2013, and in 2014, the two decided it was time to open up a second location in downtown Knoxville, Tenn. Two years later, Brown Bag expanded into the Nashville market and the business grew so rapidly that in 2017, they opened a commercial kitchen to handle all the catering.
Brown Bag opened its first restaurant outside of Tennessee in May at 5231 Piper Station Drive with Matthewson and Andrew Howard as storeowners.
Matthewson, who worked for the company while applying to graduate school, was a college English professor when the founders asked him to run the North Carolina store. Shortly after, he and his wife moved to Fort Mill, S.C., with their 15-month-old daughter, Piper. They are expecting a son, Judah, this fall.
He said south Charlotte was a perfect location for Brown Bag due to the area’s many young professionals and close proximity to uptown.
“There’s a ton of corporations here and that’s great for catering,” Matthewson said.
Brown Bag’s classic catering option includes a spinach berry salad with grilled chicken or other entrée, mashed potatoes, rolls and brownies. There is also a baked potato and chili bar, fajita bar or build-your-own sandwich bar to choose from.
Lunch at the restaurant—served 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday—includes a combination of an entrée (grilled steak, salmon burger, fish tacos, grilled chicken sandwich or teriyaki chicken) and two sides like grilled asparagus, jalapeno corn casserole, salad, sautéed veggies or berry slaw. It’s almost a crime to leave without some of Brown Bag’s banana pudding.
Customers can also order food in bulk quantities from the restaurant to take home for their own family dinner or special event.
While Brown Bag hopes to be successful in the Charlotte area, Matthewson insists it’s more than just a business. The saying “food with a purpose” means the company is committed to upholding its Christian values and making an impact in the community, both locally and globally.
Brown Bag sponsors a ministry in Haiti through metal artwork made by Haitian children and sold in the south Charlotte store. The eatery also hosts fundraisers for community organizations like Project Alive, a nonprofit dedicated to finding a cure for Hunter Syndrome.
The Brown Bag Blessing, however, is the most unique way the company gives back.
The goal is to bless an individual or family who is sick, hurting or having a difficult time. With 24 hours notice, Brown Bag will have a meal for six people or less ready for pick up at no cost.
“In the South especially, a lot of people are Christian or have Christian values, but it’s one thing to say it and it’s another thing to do it,” Matthewson said. “We’re not a charity, but whatever resources we have we want to use that in the community. We want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
So far, Matthewson said he likes the south Charlotte region and hopes to keep expanding the Brown Bag brand throughout the state. In the meantime, his goals for the new store are to tear down the corporate culture in Ballantyne and get to know Brown Bag’s new neighbors and customers on a more personal level.
“Because the guy we love, Jesus, loved everybody,” Matthewson said.” He didn’t care where they worked, so we try to learn everyone’s name and we think that’s really important. We want to be ingrained here.”