South Carolina eaters shouldn’t be fazed by the recent Roadside Seafood split, founder Sean Mendes says, because the state has weathered something like it before.
“It’s kind of like Melvin’s and (Maurice) Bessinger’s,” Mendes says, referring to the feud that divided the legendary barbecue clan. “Families don’t always get along.”
In this case, though, both Mendes and his stepfather, now sole owner of the last restaurant to bear the Roadside Seafood name, say they’re past the acrimonious stage of the breakup.
“It’s still family,” says Richard Perrine, who’s married to Mendes’ mother. “We still talk to each other.”
Mendes first opened Roadside Seafood in 2012 as a food truck, and then two years later moved into a permanent location on Folly Road. The restaurant’s popularity encouraged Mendes’ expansion plans: He opened Blues Cajun Kitchen in a vacated bar on one side of Roadside Seafood, and Gillie’s Soul Food in a building on the other.
Coping with mounting construction costs at Blues, Mendes brought in Perrine as a partner to oversee the original Roadside location, as well as a second Roadside in the former Chez Fish on Johns Island. “We had an understanding that we were going to be in the Roadside business together,” Mendes says. “But there was an issue, and we fell out, and to keep things from getting out of control, I pulled out.”
In retrospect, Mendes says, opening Blues was a mistake. “The day-to-day grind and issues with patrons, it was more than I wanted to deal with,” he says. “I’ve learned it’s hard to manage a whole bunch of places at one time.”
This summer, Mendes shut down Blues Cajun Kitchen, which in March was sued by Sysco Columbia for failing to meet minimum order requirements. He recently also closed Roadside Kitchen on Folly Road. “The building was in terrible shape,” Perrine says.
Despite being briefly overwhelmed by a four restaurant portfolio, Mendes is now looking ahead to opening Pluff Mud Seafood in the former JB’s Smokehouse, where he plans to serve barbecue catfish and peach slaw. He says he feels confident about the financial health of Gillie’s, which has absorbed the popular stuffed shrimp from Blues and the celebrated she-crab soup from Roadside.
She-crab is also on the menu at Perrine’s Roadside. Asked if Mendes provided him with the recipe, Perrine says, “We’ve got the recipe.”
According to Mendes, Perrine did pick up a few recipes when they were partners.
“I’d rather not deal with confrontation, as far as that goes, so I didn’t fight the mac-and-cheese or the she-crab,” Mendes says. “As long as people follow the recipe, it’s the same soup. I don’t want an issue with whose name belongs with what. We just want the public to know they can get it.”
Perrine has added a number of items to the menu at the extant Roadside, which is a table service restaurant. “We have a different clientele,” he says. In deference to the Kiawah crowd’s preferences (and willingness to pay for them, Perrine hints), “We’ve got a steak; we’ve got ribs; the stuffed flounder is real popular. And then we do the crab cakes a little differently, with a nice sauce and dressed up.”
He continues, “We’re happy out here.”
“I wish him the best,” Mendes says. “Our relationship was good until it wasn’t, but he’s still my stepfather. That old adage that business and family don’t always work out kind of holds true.”