For those cooking the last-ever meals at Hominy Grill, the kitchen wasn’t the place to talk about feelings.
They were too focused on feeding people — and there were a lot of people — to fully process the weight of the day.
“Ask me in six months how I'm feeling,” Robert Stehling, who owns Hominy Grill, said Sunday morning during a break from frying chicken. “I’ve tried not to think about it too much.”
“I don’t think it’s registered yet for him,” Nunally Kersh, who is married to Stehling, said. “It feels surreal.”
Dawnn Jamison, who has worked in the kitchen for four years, called Sunday a “truly emotional day.”
“When we’re here, we’re all about making the food,” she said. “As soon as we walk out, we’ll get emotional and hug each other. We’ll have that moment in the parking lot.”
They all pointed to the “intense amount” of people who visited Hominy Grill during its last, and extremely busy, week. One customer flew in from Texas for a final breakfast there.
“I just think I’m grateful,” Stehling, a James Beard Award-winning chef, said. “How people have supported us, it really means a lot.”
Before its doors opened Sunday, more than 100 people were waiting outside the famous downtown restaurant, which opened in 1996. Most patrons throughout the day waited at least an hour for a table.
Stehling and his crew prepared for the crowd.
“It’s really hard to estimate how much we needed,” he said. “I didn’t want to run out of food. I wanted people to get their favorite thing. I wanted people’s last experience to be as good as their first.”
The restaurant had previously sold out of cookbooks and logoed coffee mugs. At around 11 a.m. Sunday, they ran out of cardboard to-go boxes.
But things kept running relatively smoothly, Stehling said, because nearly his full staff stayed on board until the end.
“We sort of expected some people to leave after we announced we were closing,” manager David Vick said. “It’s definitely a good feeling that everyone stuck around.”
Vick said most employees, including himself, don’t yet have other restaurant jobs lined up.
“With how busy it’s been here, we haven’t had a lot of time to search for the next thing,” he said. “I think we all know how great of deal this was, so we want to make sure we take our time and make the right decision.”
Jamison, who lives in North Charleston, said she landed a new gig "very easily." She plans to start working Monday at Page’s Okra Grill in Mount Pleasant.
“It will be so different,” she said. “There will never be another place that I work at that will be like Hominy. It feels like we’ve been through boot camp together and now we all have to say goodbye.”
For patrons such as 19-year-old Mary Rowan, Sunday marked a first and last visit to Hominy.
“My mom lives in Massachusetts and she texted me, ‘You should go there before it closes,’” Rowan, who showed up with three College of Charleston classmates, said. “We figured we should check it out before we couldn’t anymore.”
While they waited, people ordered bloody Mary’s or brunch punch from Hominy’s outdoor walk-up window and took photos in front of the 10-foot mural on the side of the building on Rutledge Avenue. Charleston residents Chad and Sarah Beaver shared a gin and tonic out of a plastic cup while playing with their children, who are 3 and 5, on the sidewalk
Of course, Sarah Beaver said, their hour-long wait would be worth it.
“Our children have never eaten here,” she said. “We wanted to be able to tell them they ate here in their lifetime.”
Her husband, Chad, is from Ohio and has Hominy to thank for introducing him to favorites such as fried chicken and buttermilk pie.
“It’s the last restaurant that you would think would go,” Sarah Beaver said. “It’s a Charleston staple.”
As Hominy's last day went on, Stehling, who decided to close the restaurant because he was ready for a break, said he was starting to see “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
"It's been a sprint to the finish line,” Stehling, who wore a red, white and blue sweatband around his forehead, said. “What’s nice is, now, we don’t have to worry about tomorrow.”