By Leah Hughes
Whether it’s a drink in our fridge, a snack in our desk drawer or one of our favorite stores, several nationally known businesses began right here in the Charlotte area. We’re proud to call these seven companies with local roots and national reach our very own.
One of our go-to snacks started out as a solution for using up a surplus of peanuts. In 1913, Philip L. Lance, a food salesman in Charlotte, needed to move 500 pounds of raw peanuts. He began selling roasted peanuts for a nickel a bag, which then led the company to produce peanut butter. At the suggestion of his wife and daughters, Lance spread the peanut butter on crackers, hoping to encourage peanut butter sales. That combination led to the classic peanut butter sandwich crackers we know and love today. Toastchee crackers, the popular bright orange cheese crackers with peanut butter filling, were created in 1938. In 2010, Lance merged with Snyder’s of Hanover, creating Snyder’s-Lance, which is the second-largest producer of salty snacks in the country.
For many Southern natives, Belk department store has always been the place to purchase back-to-school clothes; new dresses, coats or ties for Easter; and gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Belk started as the New York Racket in Monroe, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte, in 1888. William Henry Belk invested $750 of his savings, a $500 loan and $3,000 of consigned merchandise to open the store. He was credited for his business practices, which were novel for the time: firm pricing of items; cash only, no credit; full refunds; extended hours; and the use of advertising. Belk’s brother John joined him in 1891, and the business became Belk Brothers Company. The first Charlotte store, the fourth Belk location, opened in 1895. In 2015, Belk was acquired by Sycamore Partners. Today, nearly 300 Belk stores are located across 16 Southern states.
This everyday hardware store has become synonymous with do-it-yourself projects. Whether you’re in search of a tool to work with, materials to complete a project or advice on a project, Lowe’s is a go-to place for homebuilding, maintenance and repair, gardening, painting and more. The company, currently headquartered just north of Charlotte in Mooresville, North Carolina, began in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, as a single hardware store. As World War II ended, owner H. Carl Buchan capitalized on the building surge that followed. In its early days, Lowe’s sold primarily to contractors. But by the 1980s, nonprofessionals in the general public made up a large percentage of Lowe’s customers. Today, Lowe’s stores stock approximately 36,000 products. More than 285,000 people work for the company in more than 2,350 stores located throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada. Lowe’s estimates that it serves more than 17 million customers in a single week.
We’re always on the lookout for a good bargain. One Charlotte business has provided a whole store full of wallet-friendly wares for more than 50 years. Leon Levine started Family Dollar in November 1959. Although Levine was only in his early 20s, he had grown up in the retail business and had gained a strong sense of what consumers wanted. His philosophy was: “The customers are the boss, and you need to keep them happy.” His vision for neighborhood discount stores in low-to-middle-income neighborhoods took off quickly. By 1967, Family Dollar was operating stores in four states. In 1969, the company opened its 50th store in Charlotte, back where it all began. Today, customers shop in more than 8,200 Family Dollar stores in 46 states. In 2015, Family Dollar became a subsidiary of Dollar Tree.
In 1977, at the corner of West Boulevard and Tryon Street, Jack Fulk and Richard Thomas founded Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, a quick-service restaurant concept based on distinctive flavor, high-quality products and a festive design. One year later, the first franchise opened. Today, Bojangles’ operates 689 locations, primarily in the Southeast. The eateries are known for the brand’s signature yellow and red boxes filled with fresh buttermilk biscuits and “Cajun” fried chicken. The made-from-scratch biscuits require 48 steps of preparation, and each Bojangles’ restaurant averages more than 900 biscuits a day. The chicken is marinated for at least 12 hours and then hand-breaded to be fried. Another big seller for Bojangles’ is its iced tea. Bojangles’ has become a popular choice for tailgates and game day parties, as its tasty fare is portable and easily serves a crowd. In May 2015, Bojangles’ went public on the NASDAQ.
For North Carolinians, this fizzy, red soda is a point of pride. Cheerwine got its start in Salisbury, North Carolina, about 40 miles northeast of Charlotte. In 1917, in response to the sugar shortage of World War I, L.D. Peeler experimented with how to make a soft drink using less sugar. He added wild cherry flavor to cola and came up with the drink we know today as Cheerwine, which takes its name from its cherry flavoring and deep red color. Cheerwine is most widely available throughout the Southeast in grocery stores, convenience stores and restaurants. Glass bottles of Cheerwine are sold across the country in places such as The Fresh Market, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, World Marketplace and other independent retailers. Ninety-nine years after its founding, Cheerwine is still produced in Salisbury and owned by the same family company, Carolina Beverage Corporation.
This Concord, North Carolina, business might be the most well-known company you’ve never heard of. The in-demand coffee we devour from McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Circle K, Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Krispy Kreme, Chick-fil-A and more, is all produced by one company: S&D Coffee & Tea. The company roasts enough coffee at its Concord headquarters to fill the more than 50 billion cups consumed by Americans each year. S&D is the largest supplier of coffee and tea to restaurants and convenience stores in the country. J. Roy Davis Sr. and Lawrence Switzer started the company in 1927. The original goal was to provide freshly roasted coffee to local and regional grocery stores. In the 1960s, Davis’ son J. Roy Davis Jr. shifted the business model from grocery stores to food-service sales with a customer base of restaurants, hotels, offices and other places that brew coffee for customers, clients or guests. In August 2016, S&D Coffee & Tea became a subsidiary of the Cott Corporation.
To learn more about all Charlotte has to offer, visit www.charlottesgotalot.com