COMMUNITY DINNER RESERVATIONS
Charlotte Magazine|January 2021
Jim Noble is one of this city’s most successful, innovative, and philanthropic restaurant owners—and a lot of people in ever-changing Charlotte won’t set foot in his eateries
KATHLEEN PURVIS

PICK A MEASURE OF RESTAURANT SUCCESS, and Jim Noble meets it: He was one of the city’s first chefs to work with local farmers to put heirloom and locally grown products on his menus. He has a long list of successful food businesses, from Rooster’s to The King’s Kitchen. He’s an innovator who has used online orders and catering to build support before he commits to brick-and-mortar spaces, like the newly opened bakery Copain and his barbecue business, Noble Smoke.

Then there are his good works: Before it closed temporarily during COVID-19, his nonprofit restaurant The King’s Kitchen drew national attention for using Noble’s farm-based cuisine to raise money and employ people struggling with homelessness and addiction. During the first seven months of COVID, Noble and his Charlotte-Mecklenburg Dream Kitchen distributed 140,000 meals to local families in need. Long known for his passionate evangelical beliefs, he leads a weekly Bible study at The King’s Kitchen and Sunday services as a pastor for Restoring Place Church on Freedom Drive.

So why does any mention of Noble on social media guarantee a quick backlash? A typical Twitter post from August 11, 2020: “Hi everyone in #charlotte please spread the word that Jim Noble is still homophobic! Please stop talking about his restaurants until he apologizes. Looking at you, @charlotteagenda.”

Noble happens to occupy a prominent spot on another list. In 2015, he was one of only two restaurant owners, among 94 prominent conservative clergy, educators, and businesspeople, to co-sign a letter from the national group Alliance Defending Freedom to the Charlotte City Council. The group, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as an anti-LGBTQ extremist organization, opposed a planned nondiscrimination ordinance that, among other things, would have given transgender people the right to use restrooms that matched their gender identity. The council passed the ordinance the following year, but the N.C. General Assembly overrode it with House Bill 2, which required transgender people to use the bathroom that conformed with the gender on their birth certificates. The governor, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, signed HB2 into law, touching offa season of canceled events and deferred economic deals throughout the state.

Charlotte is a city where, during the 2010s, people aged 25 to 39 outstripped every other age category in rate of population growth, according to the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. Last year, during a poisonous election season, Noble Smoke hosted events for prominent conservatives like U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Dan Forest; and for Trump Pride, a gay pro-Trump group. Among millennials, Noble’s cultural conservatism doesn’t go over well.

In 2017, Noble announced he would finally realize his longtime dream of opening Noble Smoke in a cavernous space on Freedom Drive, in an area of the city that has long been short on lucrative business investment. LaWana Mayfield, an openly gay City Council member who at the time represented District 3, which includes Freedom Drive, announced on Twitter that she wouldn’t patronize the business because of Noble’s opposition to transgender rights.

Noble refused to be interviewed for this story. When I interviewed him for The Charlotte Observer in 2017, he stuck to the language of evangelism to explain his stance on gay rights: “All of us, according to the Bible, are born according to sin. I have to go by what the Bible says to determine what is and isn’t sin.”

There was a time when few people in Charlotte would have raised their eyebrows over a restaurateur with evangelical beliefs and conservative values. Thirty years ago, this was a town known for its steeples as much as its skyline, and asking newcomers where they went to church was as common as asking where they were from.

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