South Carolina’s gung-ho approach to recovery has helped keep Vivian Howard’s planned Charleston debut on track, the North Carolina restaurateur and television host said.
While Howard has swapped the order in which she’ll open the two venues at Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, with the counter-service bakeshop now slated to precede the sit-down restaurant, she’s still aiming to launch Handy + Hot by late summer.
“Our perspective is Charleston has been the wild, wild west, open all the time,” Howard said. “We’ve been following construction and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t gone to a public bathroom in eight weeks.’ ”
Howard last week told The News and Observer that she was closing The Boiler Room, an oyster bar in Kinston, N.C., which has developed a tourist economy around Howard’s celebrity.
Without many food lovers plotting imminent trips to eastern North Carolina, Howard says it’s become increasingly important to deploy resources wisely. She and her team are now focused on finding ways to make her signature restaurant, Chef & the Farmer, “reflect dining culture today” when it reopens.
Chef & the Farmer is scheduled to remain closed at least through the summer.
Shuttering one restaurant and suspending another will free up Howard to spend more time in Charleston, a development she admits didn’t sit well with some proud Kinston residents.
“It’s pretty raw right now,” Howard said on Friday, adding that “it’s hard to hear details” about employee consolidation through the hum of disappointment. Still, she’s received many supportive calls and notes from customers and fans. “The negative feedback has been from me going on Facebook and looking at things I shouldn’t.”
According to Howard, the concept for Lenoir is being adjusted as the restaurant industry figures out how to make sit-down dining safe and enjoyable.
“We want to open in a celebratory way,” she said. “Worrying about people’s safety is not how you want to open a restaurant for the first time.”
At this point, Howard said, she’s inclined to monitor the Charleston situation before committing to dining room details or an opening date. She’s striving not to “do something tone deaf,” a concern so dominant that she punctuates her vow with a heartfelt “Lordy.”