When Hurricane Hugo whipped through the Lowcountry in 1989, chef Jonathan Kaldas of Uptown Social was 6 years old and slept through the whole thing. He woke up to a neighborhood pulling together to rebuild fences, share fresh water and cook food before it spoiled.
"It's probably the best food I've had in my life," he said.
As Florence bears down on the East Coast, Kaldas and Uptown Social co-owner Keith Benjamin are making preparations to stay open for their customers. They're hoping to be able to open and serve food and drinks to downtown customers.
The trick will be to order enough food to last should they be able to open.
And if they lose power?
"We lose it all," said Benjamin, who has already reached out to reschedule a corporate party planned for Thursday.
"If it's Category 4 or higher, we're leaving," said Benjamin, who opened a bar in Manhattan's Lower East Side the day before Hurricane Sandy surprised New York in 2012. The bar lost power along with most of lower Manhattan, but they were able to move liquor and food to a sister bar on the Upper East Side, where he said it was so busy it was like New Year's Eve.
Benjamin said they've got plywood and sandbags ready to go if the storm looks like it's heading this way. He's also battening down the hatches, removing outdoor cafe lights, furniture and televisions from the upstairs deck.
Uptown Social opened earlier this year, so it did not suffer the loss of business as bars and restaurants did in 2016 when then-Gov. Nikki Haley evacuated the area before Hurricane Matthew. Mike Shuler, who owns Blind Tiger, Vintage and King Street Dispensary, said the evacuation order was tough for the industry.
"It really hurt business," he said. "It was a ghost town for two weekends. We lost untold thousands of dollars. And we've got a lot of mouths to feed."
Last September, Gov. Henry McMaster decided not to call for an evacuation for Hurricane Irma as its path shifted to hit Florida, mainly because of economic considerations, but Irma ultimately caused more widespread flooding than Matthew.
Craig Nelson, who stayed open during Hurricane Matthew's evacuation and slept at Proof along with his bartender during the storm, said business wasn't good at all, but they still made some money by staying open.
"It wasn’t packed, but we had people in all night," he said of the Friday the then-downgraded tropical storm swept through town.
Shuler, who was 8 years old during Hurricane Hugo and remembers it being a lot of fun except for losing his treehouse, said Blind Tiger has always been the place for a good hurricane party and he expects to continue that tradition during Florence.
"I like to tell my employees we don't suffer from 'premature evacuation syndrome'," he joked. "We try to hang on for dear life until the last second. That’s our business plan: Hell or high water, we’re gonna be open."
Employees who want to leave are encouraged to do so, but if it works out like he hopes, they'll be able to open up for locals and provide the party.
"People who want to leave can leave," he said. "And those who stay can make some money."
Of course, having lived through Hugo, Shuler knows Mother Nature is not something to mess with. His family's home took a lot of damage and his elementary school was "toast" for months.
"You never know," he said. "Hugo was on this similar track and took a 90-degree turn to the left in the 11th hour and that’s why nobody had to time to get out of dodge."
Nelson, who was 15 at the time of Hugo and evacuated to Columbia, where his aunt's house got hit by a tree, said Hurricane Florence has already impacted business.
"It already killed this last weekend," he said, "with everybody getting freaked out. I'm hoping the governor says, 'We’re barely on the cone anymore. Relax and go spend some money.' "
On Monday afternoon, McMaster called for an evacuation of the South Carolina coast.