Chef Rocco Whalen wanted to be the one to open Charlotte’s first and only rooftop eatery. He’ll do so Monday, when Fahrenheit restaurant opens on the 21st floor of the Skye Condominiums uptown.
That mixed-used development at 222 S. Caldwell St. was formerly known as The Park Condos. It includes 67 residential condos and a 172-room Hyatt Place Hotel, as well as Whalen’s restaurant, at the corner of Third and Caldwell streets.
“These spaces don’t come along very often,” Whalen says. “We wanted to be the first. We truly are.”
The restaurant will begin offering dinner service and happy hour daily, starting at 4 p.m. Expanded hours including lunch and brunch are planned for the future.
It’s a venture more than three years in the making, with construction lasting 18 months.
The goal was to create an indoor-outdoor dining experience that is unparalleled in Charlotte, Whalen says. The nearly 8,600-square-foot restaurant boasts a 360-degree view of the city from its 21st-floor vantage point.
Diners will be able to view the skyline from every seat in the house.
But the sky bar is a focal point of the restaurant. It features glass doors that open onto the roof area. Linear fireplaces offer ambiance to the wrap-around patio. An herb garden tucked into the corner will provide fresh herbs for use in food and cocktails.
Some outdoor dining will be available in the summer months.
Whalen notes that big cities such as New York, Chicago and London offer these types of rooftop-dining experiences.
“I believe Charlotte is as food-centric now as it’s ever been,” Whalen says. “It’s just a great opportunity for us to put the city on level with others nationwide.”
The interior of Fahrenheit Charlotte is designed with an open-floor concept.
The dining area features warm earth tones, distressed wood tables, quartz columns and modern light fixtures. It has a large open kitchen, offering a peek into the cooking operation.
It seats up to 200.
The restaurant also offers a private-dining space that seats an additional 60. And it boasts the latest technology, making it an ideal site for meetings as well as events.
“Fahrenheit’s opening solidifies the vision we had for this building,” says Bud Balsom of Small Brothers LLC.
Charlotte real estate developer Small Brothers was developer for the project. Intec Group, which has a Charlotte office, was the designer.
Whalen has invested $2.3 million in the Fahrenheit space. He and wife Alexis are partners in the venture.
This marks the second Fahrenheit location, with the first opening in Cleveland in 2002. Whalen was 24 at that time.
Sine then, he has been a rising star on the restaurant scene, gaining notoriety in a number of publications as well as on The Food Network.
Now 36, the Charlotte location of Fahrenheit allows him to recreate his dream concept. Whalen intends to keep dual residency in both cities for the foreseeable future.
That means he’ll be in the kitchen in Charlotte testing new recipes and whipping up specialties on a regular basis.
He notes the name stems from the idea that degrees Fahrenheit affects all food -- whether that means 212 degrees for boiling water, or 750 degrees for a pizza oven..
All play a critical role in shaping how that dish evolves, he says.
Fahrenheit's menu focuses on American regional cuisine, with Mediterranean and Asian accents.
“We let the food do a lot of the talking,” Whalen says.
He adds that he has family in the South and has watched the evolution of Charlotte’s restaurant scene in recent years.
Whalen describes Charlotte as a progressive city with a real presence and soul when it comes to restaurants. He notes the growing number of chef-driven concepts and focal-point restaurants targeting specific cuisines.
“I really believe in the city and I am excited to put a food stamp on it,” he says. “We really just want to add to the cultural scene that’s going on here.”
That could mean specialties such as lobster rolls, sweet potato biscuits with lobster and Neese’s country sausage gravy, or the "Charlotte Nachos," which combine crispy-fried potato chips with fondue, bacon, herbs and Parmesan. Entrées might include coffee-and-mustard-crusted pork, American Kobe beef short ribs, or King Crab ramen and other seafood options.
Whalen estimates the mid-range price point for an entrée will be between $28 and $32. Prices will fluctuate based on market costs and ingredient availability.
Fahrenheit will incorporate local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients as possible. Whalen notes he has developed relationships with Meat & Fish Co., Cloister Honey, Tega Hills Farm and other Carolina purveyors.
“We will work very hard to keep all the money we can in North Carolina,” he says.
The bar will offer a mix of cocktails utilizing fresh herbs from the rooftop garden, including lemon-thyme and Thai basil.
That could be used for cocktails such as Lemon Time, a gin-based drink which includes muddled fresh lemon-thyme with gomme syrup, ginger liqueur and lemon juice.
Plans call for six beers to be on tap from NoDa Brewing Co., Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and Birdsong Brewing Co. as well as a wine list, spirits and liquors.
Whalen says he has hired about 75 employees to date, but continues to look for additional help.
A number of specialty events are planned at the restaurant and in the community.
That will include Food Network Cookbook dinners where guests receive a signed copy of the featured cook's cookbook. Food truck events with specialty recipes, celebrity guests and local food purveyors also are planned.
Fahrenheit will participate in Charlotte Wine and Food weekend in April.
By: Jennifer Thomas