Anthony Mason: You’re in Alabama; you’re thinking about South Carolina; you’re in Mississippi?
John Currence: And Florida. In Charleston, we’re building. In Charleston, it’s been a long process.
It’s probably best Mason and his co-hosts didn’t ask Currence to elaborate on what’s held up the construction of his sixth Big Bad Breakfast. While the Mississippi-based restaurateur says he’s “not upset” by delays, he admits to being frustrated by how much time it’s taken to placate Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review, the S.C. Department of Transportation and a neighborhood association, among other interested parties.
“I don’t think there’s a desk in Charleston this hasn’t been across,” says Currence, who in February revealed plans to open a restaurant in the former Simply Fashions at 456 Meeting St.
“Our architect pretty much gave us a schedule of what he thought would be the best, worst and likely scenarios, and we’re somewhere between likely and worst,” he continues. “It’s arduous, and it’s taken four times as long as it’s ever taken us anywhere else before.”
Currence in 2008 opened Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, Miss., determined to prove that eggs, bacon and biscuits could be held to the same quality standards he upheld at Snackbar, where his work was recognized with a James Beard award. Five years later, the chef partnered with Nick Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ to open additional locations across the Southeast. (Pihakis, who has since sold Jim ‘N Nick’s to a private equity group, is also the backer of Rodney Scott’s BBQ).
Big Bad Breakfast, immortalized in a James Beard award-nominated 2016 cookbook, now operates restaurants in Inlet Beach, Fla., as well as Birmingham, Homewood and Florence, Ala. When Eastside residents got wind of the latter project, they started to worry, Currence says.
In Florence, the restaurant is in a complex with a hotel and a bowling alley, stoking a rumor here that Currence’s team was planning a similar four-story project for Meeting Street. Currence says he was able to quash those concerns, but wasn’t able to quickly fulfill requirements associated with a building that spans property lines and sits on a numbered state highway.
“We were warned on the front end that’s just the way things work, and the planning department has its hands full,” says Currence, who immersed himself in the Charleston project after his mother passed away last December, thinking the work would serve as a short-term distraction from grief. “But there was a nod and a wink that we can kick this can down the road.”
As a native New Orleanian, Currence says he’s sensitive to the need to stave off opportunists.
“When there’s a gold rush in demand for property and development, locals tend to be rightfully wary of all these people coming to set up shop and make money off a place that is theirs,” he says. “They run the risk of the integrity of their place being diluted or misrepresented.”
So Currence is sticking with it, with architect Reggie Gibson continuing to expedite the process as best as he can. "We're still 100 percent invested," he says. They’re hoping to start construction in September.
“We’re on the doorstep of beginning,” Currence says. “When it happens, it’s going to happen in a hurry.”
By which he means, Big Bad Breakfast Charleston is projected to open on Jan. 1, 2019.