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Owner of Charleston's 167 Raw says 'ongoing legal issues' compound long wait times

file walk up first come first served reservations (copy)

"Please wait to be seated" for first come, first served. File/Wade Spees/Staff (167 Raw on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017)

While the consequences of what 167 Raw owner Jesse Sandole describes as “ongoing legal issues” surrounding the East Bay Street restaurant’s patio aren’t yet clear, customers appear to have scored one early victory in the neighborhood skirmish.

Forced to suspend outdoor seating until permitting matters are settled, the restaurant has implemented a program to text guests 10 minutes before their tables are ready. According to Sandole, the system has helped alleviate stresses stemming from longer waits at the popular seafood bar.

“(It) has been working out very well,” he says.

Sandole declined to comment further on the patio’s status, citing the current case, but confirmed the restaurant will continue to operate as usual. “We expect more developments in the very near future,” he says.

According to city attorney Frances Cantwell, the dispute centers on a nineteenth-century clause in deeds to houses along Wentworth Street. Property owners were guaranteed an eight-foot easement behind their lots, meant to grant unimpeded access to East Bay Street. 167 Raw's patio sits squat in the center of that historical driveway.

"It's a real estate issue," Cantwell explains.

Because the city wasn't aware of the covenant when the restaurant applied to serve food outdoors, it approved the request without regard to an easement -- much to the dismay of affected homeowners, who then brought city officials up to speed on their contracts.

South Carolina law stipulates that municipalities can't allow any activities which violate known covenants. So when authorities were recently asked to assess a potential Certificate of Occupancy violation by the restaurant, which falls squarely within the city's purview, the previously-issued patio authorization was withdrawn.

"Now that we know of this restriction, we've got to adhere to what the statute tells us to do," Cantwell says. "It's unfortunate it all happened, but it's just the state of affairs, and we're hoping they can resolve it."

If the restaurant reaches an accord with neighbors, she adds, its application for patio service will be evaluated based on the city's standard criteria for outdoor dining.

167 Raw opened in 2014 as a seven-seat raw bar and retail market. It has since emerged as an essential Charleston restaurant, drawing praise from national outlets such as Bon Appetit, which recommended “mounds of oysters” and a glass of Muscadet.

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

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