The restaurant project that chef John Currence describes as the most protracted development in which he’s ever participated will finally conclude next month with the opening of Big Bad Breakfast in downtown Charleston’s East Side neighborhood.
“Nothing in my life has ever taken this long,” the Mississippi-based chef says of the sixth entry in his breakfast chain.
Currence and his partner Nick Pihakis settled on a Charleston location in 2017, but progress was repeatedly held up by restrictions imposed by the city’s Board of Architectural Review and S.C. Department of Transportation.
“It’s taken four times as long as it’s ever taken us anywhere else before,” Currence said one year ago, when the restaurant was still aiming for a Jan. 1, 2019, debut.
But with cinderblock this week being delivered to 456 Meeting St. for patio construction and signage on its way, Currence says the restaurant’s current projected opening date is “very real.” Big Bad Breakfast is scheduled to open Sept. 10.
“We’re now heading into the dreaded time of trying to put a staff together in the great national crisis that exists right now,” Currence says, citing the labor shortage that’s afflicted restaurants from coast-to-coast. “In about a week, we’ll begin job fairs, hopefully on site.”
When Currence first announced plans to open Big Bad Breakfast in Charleston, he assumed he’d share the local breakfast market with his friend Robert Stehling. The chefs worked together at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C., at the start of their careers. But Stehling in April closed Hominy Grill, creating a void that Currence isn’t unreservedly enthusiastic to fill.
“The fact that we’re coming in as he’s closed the door at Hominy is a little bit melancholy for me,” Currence says.
While the area breakfast scene has changed dramatically since Currence first committed to a Charleston location, he says Big Bad Breakfast is essentially the same, although growth has forced the chain to streamline its systems. Since opening the first Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, Miss., in 2008, Currence has added stores in Florida and Alabama, and a Nashville, Tenn., location is in the works.
“It’s meant having to think about what we do to deliver a concept that’s consistent across these stores,” he says. For example, if customers complain about undercooked French fries in Inlet Beach, Fla., the company’s leaders have to revisit their chain-wide directions for blanching potatoes, rather than take up the problem with a line cook in Florida.
Compared to two years ago, Big Bad Breakfast is “a more scrubbed and more polished version,” Currence says.
Although procedures are the same across the chain, Currence says it’s important to him that each store has a unique feel, so someone who’s patronized the store in Florence, Ala., won’t have the same Creole omelet experience in Charleston.
“We’re focused on making each of the stores feel as individual as possible,” Currence says, adding that High Wire Distilling Co. spirits will figure into Big Bad Breakfast cocktails, and the grits will come from Geechie Boy Mill. And while the Charleston store will serve the biscuit sandwiches, egg skillets and waffles that have developed followings in other Big Bad Breakfast towns, Currence says at least a few menu items will be specific to Charleston.
“It’s still clearly a little bit of a frontier,” Currence says of the restaurant’s precise location, just two blocks from where a Darling Oyster Bar sous chef last week was fatally shot. “We’ve been in touch with a number of the churches in the area to see how we can weave into the community and be of help to them. We’re excited to be part of the community.”