I remember seeing the old 60s, red, white and blue punch buggy every time my mother would drive by it on our way to Dixie River Road when visiting my grandparents. I would beg my mom to take an entirely different route just so I could see the punch buggy on the roof of an old car garage that once specialized in Volkswagens. So when I saw that the building was being renovated, I became nervous that the old buggy may have seen its last days, and I kept a close eye. It eventually earns the deserving status of a historical landmark of Charlotte but the controversy behind the old punch buggy started with the City of Charlotte saying it needed to come down and Pinky’s Westside Grill opening up with a resounding “no it doesn’t, and it won’t.”
This is why Pinky’s is the heart of the New Center City West. That resilience and unapologetic tenacity represents the spirit of this diverse side of Charlotte, NC. The fight Greg Auten and his co-owners, Andy, Randy and Dave, put up for the history of West Charlotte revitalized a dying area without removing the roots of its West Side culture and incorporated that culture within its art and style of the restaurant all the way to the Camp Greene House Salad on its menu-Pinky’s sits on the corner of W. Morehead St and Freedom Drive, the neighborhood Camp Greene right behind. People of West Charlotte demand respect and Pinky’s have proudly honored that. In return, West Charlotte has thanked Pinky’s by making it one of the hottest restaurants and chill spots in town.
Eating lunch on Saturday afternoon at his bar, Greg, or more recently “Pinky”, explains to me why he came to West Charlotte. Not only was he born and raised here on the West Side, he went to Harding University High School, played in their band and brought the neighborhood pool in his old West Charlotte neighborhood. He’s completely in love with this side town.
“I Wanted to come back to West Charlotte and re-light its spirit.”
And that’s exactly what he did. As I sit here at the bar, I am embraced by a fiery energy that presents the diversity and cultural multitude that West Charlotte emotes. Greg himself, definitely not a “suit” (although I’m sure he can rock one) sports a plethora of eclectic, colorful tattoos, an earring in each ear, 6 bulky, silver rings and a 4 inch long graying beard. Talk about cool. Right now James Brown is playing over the speakers and the workers are happily serving smiling diners, almost like a West Charlotte utopia. There are customers piling in and almost every seat is taken. There are children and the elderly, indicating the family like atmosphere. However, after the kiddies go to bed, Pinky’s is a great place to come chill and unwind, meet new and interesting people and have some damn good food.
Speaking of its menu, Greg informed me that Pinky’s uses all fresh ingredients and while one may mistakenly interpret Pinky’s as a traditional American food restaurant, the menu at first glance, will prove one wrong. Not only does Greg believe in fresh ingredients but his background in fine dining has given him the gift of taking traditional ideas, adding some class and fine tuning the recipes with some jazz. From the Falefel, a Middle-eastern, vegetarian sandwich to The Viking Corn Dog, a classic named after the Old Viking Twin Drive-In that once graced the west side of Charlotte, the menu incorporates a delightful mix of Asian, vegan and American style foods.
Greg and his owners are taking the first step in bringing the love to West Charlotte and giving this side the attention it needs so it can catch up to the rest of the city. What makes Pinky’s Westside Grill so great is its desire to “hold on to its southern roots” that West Charlottean’s hold dear but simultaneously realizes we need dynamic change to keep our fiery spirit alive through the next few generations. To include the community, Greg and his co-owners worked with several West Charlotte organizations; Free More West and the Camp Greene Neighborhood Association to help make a stand to make Pinky’s Westside Grill a reality.
There’s a sandwich there named The Big John: a 6 oz chicken breast with Swiss, bacon, honey mustard, lettuce and tomato. It’s an edible orgasm. Greg named this after his father John, a West Charlotte fire fighter, whom passed several years ago and would tolerate no laziness or self-doubt from his son. Greg lives every day with his father’s expectations guiding him toward his goals and Pinky’s success. John’s fire boots rest appropriately upon a huge industrial refrigerator, amongst Pinky’s other eclectic artwork and keep sakes, emoting the powerful presence I know Big John posed when he graced this planet.
So you’re in Charlotte and you’re looking for originality. You want good food and soul moving music. You want to chill and see different faces and feel good energy. If you have a family or just here in Charlotte on business, whether you are on the bus line or car, Pinky’s Westside Grill is the answer to all your needs. Come to the West Side and open your mind.