Changing course on a ship that's already set sail can be difficult, particularly when that ship does 1,000 covers a weekend, but Ray England hopes to make his mark on the menu at Tavern & Table on Shem Creek.
"It seemed like a fun challenge," says England, who took over a couple weeks ago. "And a change of pace from what I was doing with Workshop."
Most recently, England was running Juan Lewis, the Tex-Mex arm of Lewis Barbecue that had a food stall at Workshop at Pacific Box & Crate in the upper peninsula.
England talked to me 13 days into his job at Tavern & Table and says he feels like it's going to be a really good fit.
"I met the owners and partners and some of the managers and it seemed like a really good team," he says. "A huge factor was what can change? How comfortable are you with me flipping things around? ... And they were completely open and supportive of that."
England's got enough experience to suggest he'll be able to change the menu for the better. He worked for Tom Colicchio's Crafted Hospitality Group for 10 years and was running Craft in Los Angeles when he moved to Charleston to work with Damon Wise at Scarecrow, a project that ran off both Wise and David Schuttenberg (Kwei Fei) and eventually England too. But England gave it the old college try before leaving. "I moved here to open that disaster and thought I'd give it one more shot," he says. "I thought, I'm maybe more even-tempered than Damon, so I'm going to give it a shot. It also helped Damon to have me take over."
Of course, that disaster closed and has been reformatted into a different concept, while Wise returned to New York, Schuttenberg popped up with Kwei Fei after a short stint at Fish, and England landed at Lewis Barbecue.
"John [Lewis] and I are on great terms," he says. "He knew going into it that it was short term."
For a guy who'd never visited Charleston before stepping off the plane, he seems to be committed to staying in town. "It was time to get out of LA. Rent was skyrocketing and the traffic and crime," says England.
Working creekside in Mount Pleasant isn't such a bad place to be, even if the restaurant is a beast that is open seven days a week. "It's totally different than the downtown crowd... but I think I can educate people and turn them on to new things without blowing their minds."