Optimist Hall: Bringing Foodie Heaven to the Greater Charlotte Area
Leigha Hofmann (she/her) ’25
Calling all foodies! Are you tired of Commons and need a break from campus? Optimist Hall is calling your name. Grab your friends, blast some music, and take the quick thirty minute drive south to Charlotte to experience absolute foodie heaven. Located in the Optimist Park Neighborhood in the middle of Uptown and the NoDa district, Optimist Hall opened their doors to foodies near and far in 2019 and hasn’t let up on their services since. Once known as Highland Park Mill, dating back to the nineteenth century, their historical location is wrapped in dated bricks and houses over two dozen vendors that all serve their own unique and eclectic menus of gourmet cuisine. From steamy dumplings from Charlotte’s own The Dumpling Lady to the most gooey grilled cheese sandwiches from Papi Queso, Optimist Hall is a hidden gem of the Charlotte area that is force to be reckoned with. Because of the diversity of cuisine that it offers to its customers, the food hall succeeds at satisfying everyone’s taste buds, locals, students, and travelers alike, and makes sitting down for a meal with good company just that much more enjoyable.
My first visit to the hall was magic in itself. Being a big-time foodie and adventurous eater myself, making a trip to Optimist Hall had been on my bucket list since the beginning of my time at Davidson. After walking around the hall half a dozen times looking at every menu, I finally decided on a miso chicken ramen bowl from Bao and Broth. This simple yet delectable dish consisted of the most delicious ramen noodles, ginger chicken, and pickled bamboo topped off with roasted corn and finely chopped scallions. I added a soft poached egg on top which added an extra creamy consistency to the overall dish. This ramen bowl is just one example of the passion and artistry that goes into making the dishes served at Optimist Hall. Bao and Broth also serves their own gourmet spin on traditional warm bao buns with crispy buttermilk chicken, zesty falafel, and their more traditional pork belly and bulgogi beef buns. Dishing up exactly what their company name says, it is clear that the company is dedicated to nothing but creating good food for its customers that is exactly what they want and more.
Finishing every bite down to the last roasted corn and last ramen noodle, Bao and Broth definitely exceeded my expectations for my first trip to Optimist Hall and ignited the passion for food that I personally struggle to experience here on campus. As students, we often forget to value mental health, especially during academic grind season. It is important to take the much needed break from campus life and what better way to do that than with some good food and good company, which is the primary goal of Optimist Hall.
Aside from the immense effort and passion put into the restaurants, the atmosphere of the hall alone allows you to feel what Optimist Hall was created for: optimism about food! The moment you walk in, you can immediately feel the buzz in the air from employees and patrons alike having a good time trying new foods and enjoying each other’s company. The smells of wood fired pizzas from Ava Neapolitan Pizzeria and hot lattes from Undercurrent permeate the air and welcome you with open arms. What makes the hall even more unique is how the building has been repurposed from its previous use as a textile mill and power plant. The inside of the historical mill is open and airy with an abundance of natural light peering in from their ceiling-high wood paned windows. The same place that once produced fabrics of all kinds in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries now serves as a place of wonderment and joy for every food lover.
But it is clear that the hall has a mission bigger than just serving great food to their customers. As the warehouse once served as one of the most prominent textile mills in the Charlotte region, the location is a symbol of history, innovation, and inspiration- aspects of the space that are still present and are what make the experience for every tenant and customer. There is a sense of excitement and creativity in everyone who steps foot into the hall. Whether it is about the food or the history of the building, mere curiosity is what has driven this venue to its success in serving the greater Charlotte community. And only just opening up three years ago, Optimist Hall has much more innovation and smiles to make ahead of them.
Fun fact: Sara Blakely, the woman who invented Spanx, flew down to what was then called Highland Park Mill in 2000 to pitch her new creation and develop a prototype. The rest is history!