Your Best Nights Begin Here
Tour Charlotte, NC with Courtney Nesmith
The Best Nights section will take you on a local’s tour through the eyes and personal experiences of artists, photographers, bloggers, musicians, etc., showcased in a different city every month. In the month of November, we tour Charlotte, NC, with Courtney Nesmith, and he shows us how to have the best nights of our lives in his beautiful city.
Please scroll down to meet and take a tour with Courtney.
Tour of Charlotte, NC with
Courtney, thank you for joining us for the Charlotte edition of Behind the Shot. You were born and raised in Charlotte. How did you get your start in the Hospitality Industry?
I used to work with the sampling team for an energy drink and also worked with a large beer distributor, managing promo teams for key accounts for a few years. I had always thought the life & day to day of a bartender had to be a cool experience, so I reached out to the GM Bram at one of my accounts and told him that I wanted a career change, and I wanted to learn to bartend. He tells me to show up Thursday the following week in a black button-down and black slacks. Mind you, I had never bartended before or knew ANYTHING about how to bartend, recipes, pouring, etc.
I showed up for my first day of work. He did not know anything. Bram brought me behind the bar to teach me how to pour. He then tells me to grab two cups and place them on the bar. Then he told me to reach into the cooler and grab the bottle of Jägermeister. After telling me how to count out my pours, he told me to pour two shots of Jager. He grabbed one cup, then stared at me and said, "grab the other shot; it isn't going to drink itself." Then he walked away and told me that the other bartenders would be in shortly and that he was done training me.
You co-own a restaurant. Can you tell us what led to opening your own place and how you went about it?
For years I said I never wanted to be a bar/restaurant owner. Because the food industry is very intimidating, you can usually correct the problem reasonably quickly if you mess up someone's drink. If you mess up someone's food, you've hit them with a larger level of disappointment that will probably take some time to fix.
October 2019 - March 2020 I was offered multiple opportunities for GM, Operating Partner, and Consultant Partner positions. After talking with some colleagues, I decided that ownership might be worth trying out. We signed our lease the first week of April 2020, right after everything was shut down due to Covid. This was a risky move, but the investors were confident that it would be brilliant if I could steer this project in the right direction.
This project was an extension of a failed restaurant project they wanted me to rename and give some structure. So, from April 2020- July 2020, I spent my time working on a business plan for a restaurant in regular times and also creating a plan to survive going through an unpredictable pandemic. With many people still receiving unemployment and being used to a more relaxed lifestyle, finding the help I needed was difficult. Luckily with the help of some friends and former staff members, we were able to jump off to a great start during that first summer.
You started a DJ collective and managed DJ bookings. How did you get into that, and how has that venture grown your networking skills?
In 2007 I was in Charleston for a big party weekend. I ran into a group of people from Charlotte. Back then, I was pretty much "Mr. Charlotte" since I was born and raised here, and it was a small scene. This group asked me to find a DJ for their house party the next day, so I made a couple of phone calls, and someone referred this kid DJ Rowshay and sent him 4 hours down to Charleston to play the party. That next day I walked into the party 2 hours late, hoping that this guy wasn't horrible, but to my surprise, he was possibly the best DJ I had ever heard.
Years passed, and we worked at the same venues and became friends. It wasn't until 2017 that he walked up to me and asked me if I was interested in booking DJs. I always looked for a side "hustle," so I told him I was up for discussing it. Rowshay had this vision of a collective name Radical Grove. But this was going to be more than just a service to get DJs into bars; he wanted it to be a tool to help the DJ scene and also help nurture and grow these artists and get them to their desired destinations in the industry.
We started with a few accounts and just a few DJs, and over the past five years,, we have grown it into a collective that directly represents 12 of the most amazing human beings who are great at their craft. This has allowed me to work with 50+ other DJs locally and nationally. We also have been blessed to work with a vast number of clients that we have grown with over the past few years. Venues that we take the time to talk to about can be an extension of their brand in audio form.
You also started a Charlotte Industry Group LLC. Can you tell us more about this and how it has helped the local industry grow?
Charlotte's Industry Group started in 2017 with my friend Jamil Whitlow and I. We wanted to host some hospitality industry events to connect the workers here in Charlotte. We had both noticed with the growth of this city that we were seeing more segregation amongst establishments based on the neighborhood they were in, the types of service they provided, and other reasons.
Over the years, we threw bar crawls and other events that would get our peers together to celebrate each other and life. Over the years, I have wanted it to become more of a tool for our hospitality people. Workshops, seminars, competitive tournaments, and having an online portal for communication so that people can find out things like who is hiring, who is my liquor rep for a specific brand, where I can go to get educated and refine some of my skills to make me a better asset for my bar.
I am excited to announce that Charlotte's Industry will move on as a membership organization in 2023. There are so many topics and tools that the people of our industry don't know where to access, so we want to help with that. Whether it be classes on steps of service or reaching out to our friends with the USBG to help with some educational pieces that a dive bar bartender could use on the job. I want to see our scene build togetherness and grow its brands individually.
Charlotte is growing fast. What are some of the changes happening in the city?
The increase in population in Charlotte over the last two years is insane. We are a city full of transplants, especially many from other major market cities. I think this has affected the growing success of our food scene. Years ago, I probably had about three places where I would love to dine for a nice dinner. Lately, I have a longer list of places that I know I can go to for a solid, consistent culinary experience. We still have a way to go collectively, but we are heading in the right direction.
Our professional sports teams have a more substantial fan base now too. Those take time. It takes generations of families supporting teams to get a foundation of fans that will weather the storm with their teams no matter how bad they are. Charlotte was notorious decades ago, but we are maturing as a fanbase.
What would your best day and night out be for someone visiting the city of Charlotte and wanting to experience all the best parts of the town but only had a day to do so? Where would someone look to stay? What neighborhoods to see? Any must-do food or drink, sights to see, or experiences only a local would recommend?
So, no matter the time of the year, you will want to wake up 90 minutes before sunrise. Throw on some outdoorsy clothes, then grab a banana, muffin, a mug of coffee, and a few bottles of water because you have 50 minutes to get to Crowders Mountain, which is west of Charlotte. Once you arrive in the crowd, you can hike some shorter trails to the top of the mountain to catch the sunrise. After soaking up the rays and kicking them with mother nature, it's time to head back down the trails to Charlotte.
On the way back to Charlotte, you will stop in Belmont, a cute little town up the road. With so much southern charm. There are several breakfast spots to stop in to refuel. This town also houses a restaurant owned by the Jonas Brothers. After breakfast and noticing the beautiful southern-style houses, it'll be time to head 15 minutes back to Charlotte with one quick stop at the US National Whitewater Center (USNWC).
The USNWC has it all!! Hiking, ropes, zipline, kayaking, whitewater rafting, and more. You will enjoy our beautiful weather while burning off those breakfast calories. Two of my favorite events here are their adventure dining, which is when they take out as a group to either zipline or kayak for 45 minutes, and then when you get back to the dock, you and your group are taken to a private four-course meal with an adult beverage pairing. If you were to come back at night, you might be lucky enough to go during River Jam, their concert series with live music that they do throughout the week/summer.
So, it's probably past lunchtime, so it would be an excellent time to head over to the Freedom Park area. There are numerous restaurants with patios, but I suggest grabbing this bite and heading to the actual park with a blanket to have a picnic and a little nap. Freedom Park has trails, a mini-amphitheater, baseball fields, and basketball courts. All day long, you'll catch so many passers enjoying nature. This is right by our best and oldest mall, South Park Mall. Tons of high-end shopping and your typical middle-of-the-road stores. This is one of the cleanest and most well-kept malls that I have ever put my eyes on. Definitely an excellent place to stop to pick up an outfit to hop around in for the rest of the day.
So now it's time to head to the south end, which is the poppin area right now. It lies connected to our light rail transportation, so I'd suggest checking into a hotel or Airbnb in this area so we can leave the car parked for some late afternoon/evening drinks. There are many bars, restaurants, and coffee shops within walking distance. Once you've seen a bit of this area, it's probably wise to take a short walk downtown for some brief site. We see you might be lucky to catch some of the Charlotte Hornets or Carolina Panthers out and about during this walk.
It's about time to check out Charlotte's Art District NoDa (North Davidson) area. Part of this area in the early-mid 90s was a lower-income area where you would catch masses of less financially fortunate people. Over the years, the area cleaned up a bit and was a haven for local artists and hospitality folk (which is why it donned the tag art district). Then around 2010 and on, gentrification took a hand in the area with the affluent buying up buildings and homes, and you will find some homes in this neighborhood well over $500k+. Many of the original artists of the area are still set up on the street corners to sell art pieces, clothing, and other items. This area has a lot of character, and it has some dive spots and some newer spots with unique cocktails and food.
Get to Know
I was born and raised in Charlotte, NC. After high school, I played college basketball and had an early injury that derailed my college experience, so I turned to the beverage hospitality industry. I worked on the Red Bull Sampling team, then moved to a local beer distributor to handle promo teams and build relationships with key accounts. After that became stale, I reached out to some of my accounts to pursue bartending, which set me on course for the future. I’ve always wanted more, so after bartending, I got into management (while still bartending). The experience I gained from all this turned into a new opportunity of hosting events and helping industry bars with promotions, sales building, and other areas of consulting to help them build their brands. With the relationships I made, I was able to open a restaurant as a partner, start a DJ Collective with a friend, and build an organization that would help out the local hospitality market here in Charlotte.