The highly anticipated lakeside dining spot, Hello, Sailor, is creating quite a wake at the lake. It’s been a long voyage since Joe and Katy Kindred announced in the fall of 2016 that they were taking over the vacant Lake Norman landmark, formerly occupied by the iconic Rusty Rudder. Hello, Sailor opened its doors last month to long lines of curious foodies and big-time fans of Kindred, their date night/power lunch restaurant a few nautical miles north that put the couple on the culinary map. We sat down with Joe and Katy, the darling duo of the Charlotte food scene, and dished about how things are going 30 days in, where they got the name (hello?) and the inspiration behind the fried bologna sandwich on this seafood-centric menu.
Getting It Right
For Joe Kindred, claiming this space was a lot like coming home. He recalls feeding carp from the coin-fed fish food container down at the gas dock, several steps off the deck of Jack’s, which pre-dates “the Rudder” only in name, not aesthetics. He remembers the fried shrimp and that thick-cut bologna sandwich. When people assumed that Kindred’s would fill the space with fancy fine dining, Joe took that as an insult.
“Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t mess this up,” he says. “Some of my best childhood memories live here.” Joe and Katy set out with a clean slate and drew inspiration for the menu from what once was.
“We wanted to create a menu with approachable food — a place where you can pull up your boat and grab a burger, or enjoy more chef-driven items like ribs or a prime rib steak,” says Joe.
If you’re comparing their two restaurants, don’t. The only things in common are the consistency of each concept and the ownership. Kindred is way more “chefy,” while Hello, Sailor is exactly the lakeside casual hot-spot that it promised to be.
Good Food and Desert Décor
To imagine the menu, it helps to review the road trip that inspired signature items like the salt and pepper catfish, whole flounder and the hush puppies made with Jimmy Red corn meal.
Picture small dockside eateries that dot the lakes and rivers. These fish camps are the places that take pride in fried – everything from catfish to cornmeal hushpuppies. The duo sampled their way around North and South Carolina and took notes. “Let me tell you, I had some of the best salt and pepper catfish and popcorn shrimp I’ve ever tasted,” says Joe.
The wide-range of offerings include plates of Carolina Shrimp Calabash and combo platters that include options with flounder and ribs. East versus west raw oysters and every single side, from the beef fat fries to the watermelon, chile and sea salt salad were carefully crafted in concert with Charleston transplant and Chef du Cuisine Craig Diehl (both James Beard Award semifinalists). Craig will run the kitchen at Hello, Sailor, while Joe will spend the majority of his time at their namesake restaurant now that the new restaurant is afloat.
The menu reflects the layers of relationships with artisans and farmers in his world of food and is the reason each item is tied to Southern sourcing. For example, the heirloom mesa flour used to batter the perfectly scored fried flounder is hard to get a hold of. “I have a relationship with Anson Mills, which allows me access — it comes straight out of the fryer fragrant,” says Joe. “It’s because of the relationships I have in this business that I source the ingredients that are part of this menu.”
No Southern seafood menu would be quite complete without signature hushpuppies, as a side or appetizer, and Hello, Sailor puts their own spin on it. They make theirs with Jimmy Red corn meal, served with yuzu koshu-honey butter. “We’re not doing pub food here – everything is intentional,” says Joe.
So how do you explain the fried bologna sandwich? Simple. It was a staple at Jack’s restaurant. “I got a letter from Jack Bennett after he tried it, and he approved,” says Joe, whose roots in the Lake Norman community run deep — he went to high school with Jack’s daughter.
Katy, who runs the front of the house and deserves the design credit, gutted the 4,000-square-foot interior and decided to draw inspiration from the ’50s, Palm Springs style.
“On one hand we wanted to respect and honor the building — we want it to feel familiar but not like the Ghost of Christmas Past,” she says. “On the other hand, we wanted something new, fresh and bright.”
Research trips took her to the west coast to Palm Springs, to find inspiration in the oasis she imagined. There she found painted stone walls and retro furnishings. Peach and green and pops of yellow found their way into the color palette as a result.
What’s in a Name?
After staking claim on the lakeside spot, they knew a nautical name was needed. Flipping through ocean-related imagery, they came across the classic tattoo with the campy catchphrase “Hello, Sailor.” You know the one, with the beautiful girl wearing the 1950s updo.
“I thought let’s explore this, and we all loved it graphically,” says Katy. “Once we committed to the Palm Springs style, it made it even more ironic and funny.”
While the interior details are more mid-century desert meets “Mad Men” than nautical in nature, the logo works well in tying it all together in a timeframe. It’s carefully carried out in signage and a merch shop with t-shirts, trucker hats and koozies to keep the exclusive 32-oz. can of Baracuda Bill’s brew cold. There’s even an old-time photo booth historically found on beach boardwalks to help pass time while waiting for a table. (No reservations here, folks. Sorry!)
Bring the Fam, Rain or Shine
With three young children of their own, Joe and Katy know a thing or two about a children’s menu. According to Katy, their kids all love the burger and the hushpuppies, “but my daughter is a big fan of the shrimp.”
“We want families to hang out together, eat great food at a fair price, and enjoy,” adds Joe.
As if the entrees aren’t enough to lure families, the dessert menu takes the cake. With seasonal fresh fruit handpies and small paper cups of soft serve ice cream, it makes the meal feel like a summer picnic.
In all of its newness, Hello, Sailor fills up fast after opening at 5 p.m. The opening of the covered heated patio in early January will take some pressure off the wait list. When the outside deck opens in the spring, there’s plenty of room for all — by land or sea.
There’s a certain vibe at the lake in the warmer months, where they can park a total of 20 boats in the evening after the marina gas hut closes, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from a colder-weather visit.
“We want people to know that this isn’t just a summer dining destination,” says Katy. “We expanded the windows to bring the water views in and add more light, which makes the water views just as pretty in the winter.”
The team is working to smooth out all the details that come with opening a new restaurant. It helps that the leadership team was promoted from within and is accustomed to the high expectations. “We’re super happy with how things are going and our amazing team,” says Katy, adding that lunch service has recently been added. Workers are also busy putting finishing touches on the Tiki Bar, which commands a separate small space – an offshoot adjacent to the multi-level deck. “We definitely had to keep the Tiki Bar, with frozen cocktails on the menu,” says Katy. That bar is a fixture on the lake and was known for hosting live music, and while there are no plans for live music at the moment, that could change. “We were initially told we couldn’t do it, but we plan to take another look after we’re open for a while.”
And what’s next for the couple? According to Katy? A vacation.
Hello, Sailor is located at 20210 Henderson Road, Cornelius, NC 28031 (next to Holiday Marina). Hours are Monday, 5 p.m. until close; Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. until close. To learn more, visit hellosailornc.com.
Thanks to Olivia Oosterhouse for the fun and festive images.