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The restaurant that introduced Charlotte to pizza is still open

“They came here on their first date, and they are bringing grandchildren with them,” Christina Kokenes, restaurant owner and daughter of founder, said.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte is a multi-cultural city, full of different types of restaurants, but it wasn’t until the 50s that pizza made its debut in the Queen City.

Open Kitchen has been in the Charlotte area since 1952. This family-owned restaurant sits on the west side of Charlotte, just blocks away from Bank of America Stadium, and specializes in Italian, Greek and American dishes. 

Two brothers, Steve and Speros Kokenes, wanted to turn an abandoned service station into a burger joint, and that’s just what they did at first. As time passed, the menu expanded to include Italian food. which brought Charlotte its first pizza pie.

”Nobody knew what pizza was,” Christina Kokenes, restaurant owner and daughter of founder Steve Kokenes, said. “That was something new to the south."

Credit: WCNC Charlotte
Pizza at Open Kitchen

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From the pictures hanging on the wall of those who ate there, to its staff and how long they have worked at the restaurant, there is a lot of history surrounding Open Kitchen. 

Christina Kokenes still remembers the most famous person to have dined there: Pat Boone. The picture of the famed pop singer and actor still hangs on the wall.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the service industry, Open Kitchen can feel like one of the last remaining family-owned restaurants in Charlotte.

Open Kitchen customers said it’s the great food that keeps them coming back.

Credit: WCNC Charlotte
Open Kitchen in Charlotte's west side

Many of them remember so many fond memories there.

“They came here on their first date, and they are bringing grandchildren with them,” Christina Kokenes said. “And now, the grandchildren are driving, bringing the grandparents here.” 

It’s a tradition locals hope will be a part of the city for a long time.