Digby Stridiron

Digby Stridiron's chef station was a popular stop during Charleston Wine + Food Festival's Opening Night in Marion Square on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. Wade Spees/Staff

Weeks before opening, Parcel 32 has fired executive chef Digby Stridiron. The celebrated St. Croix chef was last year recruited to make the Upper King Street restaurant a leader in reimagining coastal American cuisine and asserting indigenous people’s place in it.

“They say they’re changing plans, but the only thing changing is me,” Stridiron says.

A spokesperson for Parcel 32 owner Patrick Properties Hospitality Group attributed the decision to "creative differences," adding, "Chef Stridiron is very talented and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors." The restaurant, which takes the place of Fish, is still on track to open.

The shakeup comes three weeks after Patrick Properties accepted the resignation of CEO Randall Goldman after a company investigation revealed “unacceptable managerial conduct” by Goldman toward employees. Goldman’s wife, Jennifer, who served as Patrick Properties’ COO, also left the company.

According to Stridiron, the Goldmans’ departure created a leadership vacuum that disrupted Parcel 32’s pre-opening operations. When Stridiron was called to a meeting last week, he assumed the discussion would center on resolving organizational issues.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Stridiron says of his firing. “It was completely unexpected. I gave up what was most important to me to be part of this.”

Stridiron was previously chef and co-owner of Balter, one of the most decorated restaurants in the Caribbean. A native of St. Croix, he doubled as a culinary ambassador for the U.S. Virgin Islands, arranging for the first-ever James Beard dinner in the territory.

When a Travel + Leisure writer in 2016 visited Balter, he dined on popcorn with leek ash, local wahoo and pork belly sauced with caramelized yucca juice. “Not every dish reached its goals, but you could taste the promise of magic down the line, like the right word moving toward the tip of the tongue,” Boris Fishman wrote.

At Parcel 32, Stridiron hoped to round out the perception of African-American cooking to include the contribution of indigenous Caribbeans. “I wanted to be part of something talking not just about slavery,” he says.

His vision resonated strongly with members of the African-American food-and-beverage community: Many of its luminaries already had committed to special events at the restaurant, and Stridiron says he was swamped with resumes from young African-American chefs.

Independent chef BJ Dennis, a Culinary Institute of Charleston graduate and well-known champion of Gullah culinary traditions, was scheduled to host weekly Sunday suppers at Parcel 32.

“I can tell there are going to be broken hearts,” Stridiron says.

It is not yet clear who will succeed Stridiron. His name and picture have been removed from the Parcel 32 website, which now lists chef de cuisine Shaun Brian Sells as the top member of its kitchen team. Sells was one of three Virgin Islanders who last fall came to Charleston with Stridiron.

Having spent so much time developing the Parcel 32 project, Stridiron says he’s committed to delivering his interpretation of port city cuisine to Charleston.

“At the end of the day, it was always more than just an address,” he says. “I just want to cook good food that has a good message.”

Dennis says he's looking forward to seeing where Stridiron lands. Having an African-American chef in a high-profile position at a Charleston restaurant "meant nothing to the city or culture if they weren't going to allow him to be himself," he says.

"Now he can be himself," Dennis continues. "And the city can get to know him on his terms."

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

Food editor and chief critic

Eating all of the chicken livers just as fast as I can.