When patrons make their final visits to Hominy Grill this week, plenty likely won’t leave without taking a photo of the 10-foot mural on the side of the restaurant’s building on Rutledge Avenue.
The popular image will remain after the restaurant serves the last of its celebrated biscuits and shrimp-and-grits Sunday. But Robert Stehling, who will remain the property owner, said its fate will be up to whoever signs the lease.
The next tenant could seek the city's permission to paint over the mural or paint a different one in its place.
“My feeling is that whoever takes over the restaurant will take over the spot for the mural,” Stehling said.
David Boatwright, a Charleston-based artist who painted the mural in 2003 and has painted several signs for businesses here, has a similar feeling.
“They’ll want their own iconic image,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to have Hominy Grill up there if it’s not Hominy Grill.”
The placement and size of the mural’s canvas — the side of the red building visible to those driving down the one-way Rutledge Avenue — makes for prime branding. For that reason, Stehling doesn’t “have a lot of hope for it staying.”
“It’s doomed by the commercial aspect of it, which is fine for me,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to last forever. It wasn’t carved in stone. If it goes away, it goes away.”
Still, that would mean saying goodbye to one of the city’s most recognized hand-painted signs, which, as Stehling said, is “also a work of art.”
Boatwright said he has talked to residents who are much more concerned than he is about the mural’s fate. “It’s amazing how many people have asked me, with furrowed brows, what’s going to happen to it,” Boatwright said.
Stehling contacted Boatwright after seeing the artist’s hand-painted sign, his first, for Hank’s Seafood Restaurant.
Together with Nunally Kersh, who's married to Stehling, they went back and forth on ideas — from produce to roosters to a morning scene. Stehling also remembers being unsure when Boatwright first suggested the phrase, “Grits are good for you.”
(Grammarians over the years have been troubled by Boatwright treating "grits" as a plural noun. “They said it should be ‘Grits is good for you,’” he said. “But I always say, "That didn't sound right to me.'”)
Ultimately, Boatwright painted a blonde-haired waitress holding a bowl of steaming grits. Above the image is the restaurant’s name and below are the words, “Breakfast, lunch and dinner,” even though Hominy stopped serving dinner in 2017. As a nod to Stehling’s daughter, whose middle name is Rose, Boatright painted “Rosie” on the waitress’ nametag. Those letters have since faded.
“It really struck the right chord,” Stehling said. “It’s a picture that represents what we want Hominy to be: this friendly place with a welcoming kind of feel to it.”
When asked why the mural has become so popular, Stehling answered, simply, “Instagram?”
“People love taking photos of it,” he continued. “Because of that, I’m reminded everyday of how much Hominy is part of somebody’s visit to Charleston.”
The restaurant also has given out countless postcards featuring the mural.
While Boatwright said the mural will likely be painted over, he isn't ruling out it resurfacing in the future. The situation reminds him of work he did last year to restore hand-painted signs from the 1950s that advertised Kreuger’s beer and ales and Ashley ice cream at the corner of Spring and Coming streets.
"Something like that could happen, you never know," he said. "It would be great and flattering if somebody uncovered it years from now."