This article also appeared in the May/June 2017 edition of Epicurean Charlotte magazine.
A cold beer, Bee Sting wings, and lounging in the sunshine on a sunny Carolina afternoon? That’s just what the doctor ordered--Doc Foster, that is. Regulars of Selwyn Avenue Pub will know Jim Foster as Doc, the co-owner of Myers Park’s number-one neighborhood destination for gathering with friends to eat, drink, and cheer on a Duke vs Carolina game. It’s no happy accident that Selwyn Avenue Pub is the premier destination for those searching for a grown up bar in Charlotte. Doc and and his father, Jim Foster Sr., also known as “Coach,” credit their long-lasting success with listening to their customers since they opened the pub in 1990. As Doc puts it, “We have stayed in business for 27 years because we listen to our customers--we want people to feel welcome and comfortable. What you see here is the result of 27 years of improv with audience participation.”
The results of customer input can be seen everywhere from the menu (customers asked for the Ahi Tuna Wrap that’s now one of their best selling items), to the enclosed TVs on the patio (a customer suggested the alcove for housing the TVs back in the early 90s when no other bars had outdoor televisions). The customers are the heart and soul of Selwyn Pub and play a central part in its identity. “We want people to feel welcome here, and to feel comfortable,” Doc says, and he believes it’s impossible to become stale in the restaurant business unless “you become tone deaf” to your customers’ demands. Doc has watched many fads in the Charlotte dining scene come and go, but he and Coach maintain a steady focus on a business model that cultivates longevity and customer loyalty. The equation is simple, says Doc: “If you want to hang out in Myers Park with a lot of nice people, we’re it.”
There is a comfortable familiarity about Selwyn Pub that resonates with its customers, but Doc never stops innovating. Case in point? A brand new retractable awning (AKA the “Selwyn Pubadrome”) was recently installed to replicate the beloved oak tree that had to come down in November of 2015. Doc knows how important the tree was to so many of his customers, and he did everything he could to salvage it. The tree, he notes, had more “check-ups” than his own children. Ultimately, however, all of the experts Doc consulted agreed that the tree could not be saved, and the soil was not amenable to planting a fresh tree in that spot. Doc spent many hours searching for a viable replacement that could replicate the feel of the tree, if not the exact look. The new awning provides many qualities the tree provided-- the sun shines through when the awning is out and allows in some warmth, but it will block heavy rain and much of the blistering heat of the sun’s rays in the height of summer. The awning stands tall at 11 feet high, so it never feels suffocating, and it maintains the patio’s open and breezy feel . Doc feels that the awning “keeps the spirit of the tree” in that the patio remains a comfortable gathering spot for the Myers Park community, and he knows his customers will be relieved to not have to cover their beers and race inside when a summer rainstorm blows in. Along with the awning, the outdoor heaters and comfy new seat cushions will ensure that Selwyn Pub remains a year-round destination (yes, all year--even on Christmas and “snow days”).
Once you are comfortable and climate-controlled no matter the weather, it’s time to focus on food, and diners know Selwyn as a reliable spot for quality pub food. The focus, Doc says, is on “shareable items, because they support our main purpose--people come here to meet their friends.” The food, like the pub itself is “communal” and Doc and his father know that customers crave simple and high quality menu items, so their focus is straightforward: “Buy absolutely the best ingredients and don’t screw it up.” What does this mean in practice? Angus chuck beef for hamburgers, fresh not frozen hand-breaded chicken tenders, sashimi grade Ahi tuna, and Boar’s Head meat products. Their most popular item, according to everyone from the rich and famous of Charlotte to the Myers Park teenage set, cast a unanimous vote: that pizza. With unlimited free toppings and a thin and crispy crust, you really can’t go wrong with a Selwyn Avenue Pub pizza.
Doc is the first to admit that the menu is a bit schizophrenic, but it’s merely the result of listening to customers’ demands over 27 years. Initially, Doc and Coach, who are of Irish heritage, had the idea of opening up “a little Irish pub in the neighborhood.” They quickly found, however, that as much as people enjoy Irish food here and there, or as a novelty on March 17th, most customers don’t crave that type of food on a day to day basis while they watch the game with a beer. So, true to their mission, they switched up their menu to what the customers craved. And while it’s mostly wings and pizza, sometimes it’s that fancy tuna wrap that’s now a bestseller, or anything else a customer might suggest in the near future. Selwyn is unpretentious quality at affordable prices. What to wash it down with, beyond the beer, of course? “Many people” Doc says, “are surprised at our wine menu--it is a wide selection of high quality wines at pub prices.” The drink options range from ciders to cocktails to a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc.
If you’re looking to peruse a menu online, though, you won’t have any luck; “the customers” Doc says, “are our social network.” One of Doc’s daughters did hook up the pub with a Snapchat Geofilter, but that’s as far their media presence goes. This philosophy meshes with one of the challenges Doc often finds himself pondering in his other gig, where he is a tenured professor of Law and Ethics at Queens University’s McColl School of Business. He notes that for all of the social media savvy today’s students demonstrate, they sometimes struggle with talking to one another face to face, and he believes that Selwyn Avenue Pub provides that place of social connection. Selwyn Avenue Pub harkens back to an earlier time of the village green, where people would gather together to discuss local issues and politics face to face, and not over Facebook or text; “People come here primarily because they want to socialize with their friends and meet new people, and we provide that comforting and inviting place for them to do that.” Doc believes that people crave that gathering place in their community, and Selwyn Avenue Pub is more than pleased to provide that space for the Myers Park and Charlotte community.
The only snafu? The notorious parking situation: “We proudly acknowledge that we’ve got the worst parking in the state,” Doc says with a laugh, but he notes that the upside is that everyone who manages to get here is “paying us the greatest compliment--they had to go through a lot to get here” he jokes. But seriously--take an Uber or hitch a ride with a friend and get down to Selwyn Avenue Pub ASAP to enjoy a few of those quintessential sunny southern afternoons this summer. And don’t waste any time, as Doc notes, “your friends are already here.”