Jestine’s Kitchen, which for 17 years served down-home Southern meals that impelled sun-baked tourists to stand patiently in line, may have fried its final chicken.
The downtown Charleston restaurant at 251 Meeting St. last Thursday closed abruptly during lunch service. It’s unclear why the restaurant shut down, but social media reports, including a TripAdvisor review posted by a diner who claims to have visited that afternoon, suggest owner Dana Berlin Strange energetically shooed away customers, declaring Jestine’s would never reopen.
Strange has thus far been less forthcoming with the general public: The restaurant’s outgoing voicemail message, featuring a woman’s voice, says, “We are closed right now for renovations, thank you very much. I’m very sorry. It was out of my control.” A scrawled sign posted on Jestine’s front door reads, “Closed for remodel.” Strange didn’t respond to multiple messages seeking comment.
Strange in 1996 opened Jestine’s Kitchen to honor her family’s longtime housekeeper. Jestine Matthews died the following year at age 112, but her namesake restaurant continued to attract acclaim from the national press, beginning with Gourmet magazine in 1997.
“How often do you get to snack on a complimentary bowl of sweet onions and cucumbers while deciding among fried oysters, fried pork chops, fried chicken and, of course, fried green tomatoes?,” USA Today marveled in 1999. “The requisite over-the-top dessert is the Coca-Cola Cake: marshmallows, whipped cream, nuts and cocoa with a Coke-moistened chocolate cake.” Jestine’s was later listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.
Public records don’t offer any evidence of legal problems or code violations involving Jestine’s: The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control awarded the restaurant an “A” grade for its June 19 inspection.
According to a Strange interview conducted two years ago, many of Jestine’s employees had been on staff since the restaurant opened.
““Help I need a job, Help I’ll take any job,” Belinda Kowalski, a longtime server, recently wrote on Facebook. “Help I need a jobbbbbb.”
Jestine’s Sweet Shop on Wentworth Street remains open.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.
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