Sam Hart (they/them) is the Executive Chef and Owner of Counter- in Charlotte, NC, an intimate, full sensory restaurant experience featuring themed tasting menus paired to music, as well as its sister concept, Biblio. Born and raised in the Queen City, Hart’s goal is for Counter- to be an incubator for rising star chefs, providing them a place for empowerment, guidance, and inspiration to open their own concepts in Charlotte and elevate the dining scene in the southern city that raised them. Hart is a 2023 James Beard Awards Finalist for Best Chef: Southeast.
Hart’s journey to fine dining was not a traditional one. Upon graduating from Dickinson College in 2011, they entered the business world working in advertising. After five years in corporate America, Hart realized that their passion for cooking in their free time could serve a greater purpose in their life, so in August of 2016, they left their job to pursue a culinary degree. Hart opted to enroll at Central Piedmont Community College in their hometown, rather than a prestigious and exclusive culinary school, which often come with high price tags. While they were in culinary school, Hart worked at some of Charlotte’s most lauded establishments, including Heirloom, Myers Park Country Club, Angeline’s, and Haymaker.
In October of 2018, Hart moved to Chicago, IL to immerse themselves in the world of fine dining, beginning at three-Michelin-starred Alinea, which received the 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant and continues to make the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. At Alinea, Hart worked as a commis, sharpening their skills on the canape station, working under Executive Chef Simon Davies. In March of 2019, Hart explored Japanese cuisine, working as a sashimi chef at Momotaro alongside Chef Gene Kato.
Looking for a break from the hustle of the restaurant industry and with a desire to give back, Hart took a job as the lead culinary instructor at The Kids’ Table, a cooking school in Chicago for kids and families, while also working as a private chef, focusing on high level in-home tasting menus, a gig that ultimately became the research and development phase for Counter-.
Taking their diverse knowledge of the different cuisines, techniques, and tasting menus they experienced in Chicago, Hart made their way back to Charlotte in October of 2019 to take the leap and pursue opening their own concept. Counter-, named to represent the antithesis to traditional fine dining restaurants, began as a monthly pop-up. It quickly grew a fan-base, and Hart opened Counter-’s first brick and mortar location in September of 2020 and relocated to West Charlotte in December of 2022.
Hart’s passion for cultural change is ingrained in every aspect of Counter-, from employee benefits and fair pay for suppliers (and if suppliers aren’t paid enough, they’ll take the task inhouse) to giving back to the community through initiatives such as donating to local crisis centers for LGBTQ+ youth. Counter-’s 2022 relocation ushers in a new era for Hart and their team, who continue to push the boundaries of traditional fine dining.