Charlotte icons: Lupie’s Cafe


March 29, 2024

Lupie's Cafe sign

by Whitley Adkins  |  photographs by Richard Israel

For more than 30 years, Lupie’s Cafe on Monroe Road has been one of Charlotte’s most treasured eating establishments. On a brisk but sunny afternoon, near the tail end of lunch service, we sat down with Larkin Duran, daughter of restaurant owner Lupie Duran, to learn about the history, ongoing charm and challenges facing one of the Queen City’s longest-running cafes. 

Lupie was a single mom to 1-year-old Larkin when she founded the cafe in 1987. She learned how to cook while working in the kitchen at nearby Thompson’s Orphanage (now Thompson’s Children’s Home), where she grew up. After graduating from Independence High School, Lupie worked in restaurant kitchens and waited tables until she decided to open her own place. 

Larkin grew up in the business. She started working in the summers when she was about 13 or 14, helping clear tables and refill drinks. “We opened a second location in Huntersville, which I ran for about 13 years,” Larkin says. Lupie retired about seven years ago, but she still helps with the baking — Lupie’s homemade desserts include cookies, banana pudding, chocolate eclair pie and peach kuchen, a German cake. And while Larkin now handles the day-to-day restaurant operations, she says Lupie is still in charge. “My mom is still very much the boss.” 

Left: Larkin Duran


“We have a ton of regulars — they come in, and they always get the same thing,” Larkin says. Favorites include the chili, which comes in four styles — Texas (spicy), Cincinnati (sweeter), Southern (traditional) and vegetarian. Chicken and dumplings, a Thursday special, is another popular dish. “We also have really good veggies,” Larkin says. “And everybody loves the nachos.” 


“Most of our clientele are regulars and locals,” Larkin says. “Jimmy with Repo Records eats in here all the time — back in the day, we used to trade food for CDs.” Lettie from Lettie’s on Shamrock, Warren from Midwood Country Club — he and his wife eat here all the time. [Tipsy Burro owners] Brian and Mark have been the best neighbors since they opened up across the street.”


“The two guys in the back that have the mouths on them, Archie and Rod, have been here well over 20 years,” Larkin says. “We are a weird little family — we’ve all worked together so long. We get on each other’s nerves. You have to have thick skin to work here. We constantly yell at each other, but we get over it.”


Arthur Samuel Grier, a prominent Black civic leader, constructed the building as a grocery store in 1938. Later, it was an auto-repair shop. “It was never really meant to be a restaurant,” Larkin says. “Lupie’s used to only be the upper half of the current restaurant, and the lower half was a seedy nightclub for a while, back when Mom was renting the space.” Today, Lupie owns the entire building. “Mom is a very smart woman. She’s made a lot of excellent decisions.”

Left: Charles Perry and Rod Moore


Along the back wall and scattered around the restaurant are photos taken in the ’90s by local photographer Byron Baldwin. “There’s a photo by the men’s room of me and my mom that Byron took. The day that we did that, he was teaching [a class for older adults]. There were probably 15 people that came in with him — it was so fun.” 


“There have been so many,” says Larkin, from an expansion in the ’90s to the Great Recession of 2007-09. “Through all the ups and downs, we’ve always managed to make it.” While Lupie had to make some tough decisions over the years, “she’s always tried to take care of everyone else first, before herself,” her daughter says. “I have seen children grow up here. I knew them when they were little, and now they are in college. We’ve had cars crash into this building — I think three times. The comedian, Carrot Top, came in here, I remember… It’s a special place for a lot of people, whether they come once a year, or if they come every day.”


“This industry has changed so much, just in the time that I’ve been doing this — especially since Covid,” Larkin says. “It’s definitely not easy. Even with the shortened hours (the restaurant phased out dinner service in recent years), when I leave here, this all comes with me. Everything is always changing, and we are just trying to keep up with it.”  SP

Lupie’s Cafe is located at 2718 Monroe Rd. and is open Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Saturday 12 – 4 p.m.

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