Five Loaves Café, which over two decades grew from a two-man operation to a network of restaurants beloved by families from Mount Pleasant to Summerville, is closing its original location in downtown Charleston.
Glowfisch Hospitality, which also encompasses Sesame Burger and Beer, in June shut down Five Loaves at the corner of Cannon and Coming streets, citing a severe staff shortage. Employees of the restaurant were reassigned to other locations while owner Joe Fischbein waited for a sign that he should resume service.
Instead, a sign that Five Loaves’ run was up came in the form of a lease agreement.
“I’m not in any kind of position to sign another lease for years to come when I don’t know where this is going,” Fischbein says, referring broadly to current events and the economic fallout. “I had to come to grips with not reopening. Nothing’s going to save it.”
The Mount Pleasant and Summerville locations of Five Loaves Café will remain open, along with Sesame in Mount Pleasant and North Charleston. Fischbein this summer notified Citadel Mall he didn’t intend to reopen a Sesame located there.
According to Fischbein, the downtown Charleston building’s owner wasn’t financially positioned to offer significant tenant incentives, so he didn’t try to renegotiate a lease with more favorable terms.
He was also concerned the amount of time that elapsed since Five Loaves hung a “temporarily closed” notice on its front door had exacerbated his staffing problem, since he would have to recruit and train a new crew to get back into business.
“If I had the right people it would have made a huge difference,” he says. “Staffing is the biggest thing.”
Since announcing the location’s closure via social media on Friday afternoon, Fischbein says he’s received more sympathetic messages on Instagram than he’s been able to read.
“For so many guests, it was their kitchen away from home,” he says. “The last few years, it’s been a little crazy with the competition in this industry, but for so long, we were seeing people three, four, five times a week.”
When Casey Glowacki 18 years ago opened Five Loaves Café, Fischbein was initially hesitant to partner with him because the neighborhood wasn’t then considered much of a dining destination. “I was more the numbers guy, so I was like, ‘I don’t see how this is going to support two of us,’ ” he says. Still, he joined the project within a year.
“It was just comical to watch Casey and myself in action, working so many different areas,” Fischbein says of the days when he and Glowacki opened for dinner with the help of just one server. The two of them sat guests, cooked food, bussed tables and washed the dishes. “We were just working our tails off.”
Fischbein recalls that when they brought the same work ethic to Crisis Ministry Help Center, where the pair once a month served a meal for hundreds of people, the agency’s clients were stunned by the number of volunteers in the kitchen. They were accustomed to seeing more than a dozen people prepare their food.
In addition to hustle, Five Loaves in its early years benefited from Fischbein keeping a close eye on the restaurant’s budget. Whenever Glowacki had an idea, Fischbein posed the same question: Is it going to make the food taste better? Fischbein axed every other expense, which is why they served bottles of wine in used sour cream containers filled with ice.
That approach both saved money and won over fans, who were charmed by the restaurant’s mismatched chairs and metal camping plates.
“People felt like friends and family,” Fischbein says. “I think we had really great food, but it was trying to talk to every person; that’s what put us over the top.”
In 2017, Glowfisch Hospitality opened Ember Wood Fired Kitchen, its third restaurant brand. It sold the restaurant at the beginning of 2020, leaving Fischbein with just four locations to steer through the pandemic after Five Loaves’ downtown lease expires at the end of October. Fischbein says the narrowed focus will allow him to strengthen the company for its next chapter.
“I feel like I can take a deep breath and regroup and work with all of the great people we have and then just go from there,” he says.
He would like to eventually return to West Ashley. And he isn’t ruling out another downtown location. With so many businesses closing, he says, there are bound to be attractive opportunities.