Chef Greg Collier is a man on a mission. His goal: elevate the palates of unsuspecting Carolinians. His superpower: breakfast.
Collier and his food have a lot in common. Both seem straightforward at first glance: breakfast means eggs, grits, potatoes, sausage. Collier, a formidable presence manning the grill in his t-shirt and half apron, means plate after plate of simple, hearty food that won’t break the bank. But in both cases, you’d be missing the point if you looked no further.
Hailing from Tennessee, Greg and his wife Subrina have reigned over the best breakfast in Charlotte for three years – which is remarkable, since the original Yolk Café isn’t even in Charlotte. Their arrival in Rock Hill was circuitous, passing by way of culinary school in Scottsdale, AZ and by her parents’ residence in Charleston. Once back East, Collier staged at many notable restaurants, including McCrady’s in Charleston, and Halcyon, Ballantyne Hotel, plus Mimosa Grill in Charlotte. Along the way, he met fellow chefs who would become his friends and colleagues in the Piedmont Culinary Guild: Marc Jacksina, Jon Fortes, Michael Bowling, Ben Philpott.
Yet at the time, job offers were too slow or too limiting, and he dreamed of establishing his own place. “There was something in me that said ‘It’s time for you to be the creative force behind something,’” he recalls. He felt that Charlotte was on the verge of its own culinary movement, and he wanted to be part of it.
Finally in 2013, Collier convinced his in-laws to help finance his dream, and The Yolk opened in a small strip mall in Rock Hill. Through a fire, and a move, the couple established a strong following for their mission of “building a better breakfast.” This month they crossed state lines to open The Yolk @Dawn, a streamlined coffee-shop style diner in the Steele Creek neighborhood of Charlotte.
So why would such a creatively driven chef choose breakfast as his muse? Because breakfast is approachable. Collier uses tiramisu as an example.
“I can’t charge somebody $10 for tiramisu in Rock Hill. So how do I interpret a dish to introduce people to new flavor profiles? That’s easy; make it a pancake or a waffle.”
The lower price point of breakfast dishes makes them more approachable to an audience not normally focused on eating seasonally or locally, while still getting Collier’s point across.
“Great meals sit with you no matter how much they cost,” he says.
Great meals are also recognized by his fellow chefs, regardless of the venue. “The first couple of years I was mad because people were calling me a breakfast chef,” he recalls. “But I got to a place where I’m ok with it, and PCG helps that because of the shared respect. Everybody genuinely appreciates everything that everybody else is doing.”
Marc Jacksina wished he could bring Collier on board when the new chef staged under him at Halcyon in 2012. It wasn’t just “his playful yet very thoughtful nature with food,” but his business savvy that Jacksina remarked. “He’s a natural both in the kitchen and in the office. He’s like the LeBron James of Charlotte, but without the drama, and a more mature attitude.”
While he may be at the top of the breakfast game, Collier still finds inspiration in his fellow Guild members. “I look at Ashley [Boyd]’s plates, and try to see how far I can push pancakes,” he says. “I see Clark [Barlowe] forage moss … if he can candy moss, I can probably candy these carrot tops. It helps me think about different ways to do things.”
There’s no doubt Collier has raised breakfast to a new level, but his mission is not complete. He can envision a day when baby Yolks ring Charlotte, creating a new standard for morning meals.
In the process, he may also create a new standard for his profession, where the label “breakfast chef” takes on as much depth as his tiramisu pancakes.
Profile written by Alison Leininger