South 21 defines diner perfection

CHARLOTTE – Show of hands: How many Mountain Island residents have passed the barn-looking building called South 21 on Brookshire Boulevard?

Another show of hands: How many of you have actually stopped in to eat?

The Club 21 is a breakfast “club” sandwich featuring three pieces of toast, two eggs and a choice of bacon, sausage or ham served up club sandwich style. (Molly Reitter/MI Monitor photo)

The restaurant looks a little iffy from the outside, which might be why people drive on by. But know that you are missing the meal of a lifetime: inexpensive, delicious and served with a smile by workers who have been there since day one. South 21 deserves a second, third and fourth look.

The South 21 restaurants are a Charlotte institution. The first one opened in 1955 on South Boulevard (hence then name) and the second one in 1959 on Independence by the 3 Copsis brothers: Sam, Nick and George.

The brothers had recently immigrated from Greece and wanted to work in the restaurant business. These restaurants were perfect 1950’s diners with drive-thrus, beefy burgers, thick shakes and homemade onion rings.

Other South 21 locations opened and not much has changed since that time. The food remains of the same high quality.

Johnny Katopodis’ sister married into the Copsis family; he became close with the clan and in 1983 took over the Brookshire location. He worked with the family and learned the “Two Qs”: quality and quantity.

“This is the mainstay of our business,” said Katopodis. “There are no shortcuts on quality and there are no shortcuts on quantity. The Copsis family taught me that.”

So the potatoes are peeled every day and all the meats are of the highest quality. The chicken salad, potato salad, barbecue sauce, chili, ranch dressing, breading and cole slaw are all homemade.

Katopodis had been in the restaurant business his whole life, but excelled in the breakfast and lunch arena. So he wanted to serve breakfast at his South 21 location.

“The Copsis family was fine with this as long as everything remained high quality,” said Katopodis. So his is the only South 21 location to serve breakfast.

The menu teems with old standbys and inventive fare. For example, you can get scrambled eggs, hotcakes and livermush or try the Club 21 which is a breakfast club sandwich with eggs and a choice of breakfast meat.

“Most people have never seen a breakfast sandwich like this,” said Katopodis.

Francis Heyward, of Mount Holly, loves to eat at the restaurant for breakfast.

“I like the service and I love the food,” he said. “I usually order grits, scrambled eggs and toast, and it’s not very much money.”

The inside of the restaurant belies the outside with a clean and crisp setting. The floors are black and white checkered and the formica tables gleam. Booths and low stools are covered in red, sparkling, cushy upholstery.

Many of the workers at the restaurant have been there for a long time, such as Ashley Barber, who has been there since opening day. The atmosphere is one of cozy familiarity between the staff members and the customers.

Katopodis understands that people might judge his restaurant by the outside, but he just keeps on serving up high quality diner fare.

“Once people try it, they always come back,” he said.

South 21

6116 Brookshire Blvd., Charlotte


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