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We're Open: Newest restaurant in Hampton's Phoebus neighborhood is 'redefining cafeteria'

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Posted at 7:10 AM, Feb 15, 2021

HAMPTON, Va. - "Our theme is being blessed and highly-flavored."

That's what Lakesha Brown-Renfro and her staff are running with as they get set for the grand opening of Charlotte's Cafeteria in Hampton's Phoebus neighborhood next week.

You can find that theme in everything from the southern comfort food menu to the bright decor to the service out in the community.

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The Charlotte's menu features homemade southern comfort food like baked spaghetti.

"We're just out there not just serving good food but serving up laughs as well," said Brown-Renfro.

Charlotte's is the latest venture of Simply Panache Groupe, a company run by Brown-Renfro and her business partners, Nzinga Teule-Hekima and Tenecia Willis.

Simply Panache operates the well-known bistro Mango Mangeaux just down Mellen St. from Charlotte's, along with Noir lounge next door and a spa, boutique hotel and event space.

Adding a cafeteria to the mix of Phoebus businesses seemed natural.

"We're missing cafeteria dining in this area so we're really happy to be able to bring this to the Phoebus part of Hampton. We also feel like we're redefining cafeteria. Cafeteria isn't just a place that's kind of gloomy and sad. This is bright and cheerful and clean," she said.

The menu is homemade too and includes everything from entrees like fried chicken, salmon croquettes and baked spaghetti to desserts like cheesecake and banana pudding.

It's all served a-la-carte, except for 'Orange Plate Specials,' which include an entree and two sides for $9.99. The idea being to offer a fast, affordable option that's still delicious.

Brown-Renfro didn't have to look far for inspiration.

"Charlotte is my mother, who has been a great support to our businesses," said Brown-Renfro. "She's also the cook of the family. She loves flavor and has a plethora of recipes."

These recipes were used down the street at Mango Mangeaux every few months for a special event called 'Charlotte's Soul Food Sundays.' It became so popular that Simply Panache Groupe decided to turn it into a business.

The work began began pre-COVID, Brown-Renfro says, and the pandemic has made hiring difficult, but when the going gets tough, it all comes back to being blessed.

The day of Charlotte's soft opening on Thanksgiving, the restaurant served people in need.

"Tenecia actually took meals to the VA and some area hospitals and things like that," said Brown-Renfro.

These days, Charlotte's is still getting off the ground, with a solid crowd coming in for lunch the day News 3 was there. Brown-Renfro, co-owner of a multi-million dollar company, stood behind the counter, scooping and serving with her employees.

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Lakesha Brown-Renfro, co-owner of Simply Panache Groupe, works the line at the company's latest business, Charlotte's Cafeteria.

She's determined to make this work, not only for her business, but for other businesses and owners in the Phoebus community too.

"It's all about having synergy, doing it together, being a shoppable and walkable area," she said.

Charlotte's is currently open from Wednesday to Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grand opening is scheduled for Monday, February 22.