When architect Reggie Gibson first suggested a century-old portrait of an old salt with a black cat bundled in his flowing gray beard as naming inspiration for the gelato shop beneath The Obstinate Daughter, not everyone connected with the Sullivan's Island project jumped on board.
"We kind of all argued," recalls executive chef Jacques Larson. "We were like, 'That's disgusting. Would you want to eat gelato from that guy?' "
But Larson says the marketing possibilities and proposed design scheme swayed the naysayers.
"It doesn't have to make sense, as long as we're doing great coffee and gelato and showcasing (pastry chef) Caroline Sherman's talents," he says. "It's fun and whimsical."
BeardCat's Sweet Shop is scheduled to open at 2063 Middle Street by month's end. The opening menu includes gelato in 10 flavors; sweet pastries; juices; smoothies; ice cream cakes and a range of Counter Culture coffee drinks. Although Larson says the store's menu may eventually expand to include more savory items, he's wary of competing with The Obstinate Daughter, slated to soon add lunch hours.
"We're trying to do it a little bit piecemeal," Larson says, referring to the possibility of curbside pizza pickup and midday meatball sandwiches. "The problem is our oven upstairs is a small Wood Stone, and we've got to make people inside the restaurant happy first."
The downstairs operation will be overseen by Sherman, who started playing with gelato production as Wild Olive's pastry chef. Sherman spent a training week at the Winston-Salem headquarters of Carpigiani, maker of the restaurant's gelato machine, then traveled to Bologna for a few more weeks of advanced gelato study.
Gelato flavors are likely to vary according to pro-duce availability: Larson envisions using paw paws, scuppernongs and melons as flavor foundations. A strawberry-buttermilk gelato, currently on offer at The Obstinate Daughter, is so popular that the restaurant's already buying berries in bulk.
Although initial plans called for confining gelato service to BeardCat, Larson says The Obstinate Daughter will likely continue serving three gelato flavors in affogato form.
Originally, the downstairs area was supposed to function as The Obstinate Daughter's patio. But the city nixed the plan, forcing the owners to come up with a concept consistent with the space's retail zoning. BeardCat's now waiting to learn whether the city will allow cafe seating. If not, Larson says, "there's a really good bench" near the shop.
"If you can't sell ice cream at the beach, you're doing something wrong," he adds.