Geoff Chewning has spent the last eight years serving food to the hospital workers of downtown Charleston. He knows his customer base. They have a tight 30 minutes to get out of the hospital and eat lunch. They don't have time to wait around. At Halo, his restaurant on Ashley Avenue, he's tweaked things to be able to deliver what his clientele needs and wants, quick turnaround and healthy fare at affordable prices.
When the corner store on the end of Doughty Street, just behind Halo, looked like it was going to be available, he threw his hat in the ring. That was two years ago. On Monday, after months of renovation, he opened Nimbo Pizza, another venue he hopes will satisfy the thousands of workers in the neighboring healthcare industry.
"Somebody told me that 14,000 people work there," he says, "but that seems like a crazy number."
But maybe that number is an underestimation. In a 2016 article, the Post and Courier reported that the three institutions in the area employe 20,000 workers. "Another 10,000 arrive there each day either to attend class, visit or seek treatment. MUSC's Public Safety Office estimates that 7.8 million go to the campus each year — more than Charleston's annual tourism visitation."
That's no small potatoes, and over on Ashley Avenue, Halo is the one of the only restaurants. Sure, there are places to eat in the hospital and nearby, but Halo is practically on campus, it's fast and reliable, and business has been great.
So great that Chewning knew he wanted to put something in the attractive corner space on Rutledge Avenue and Doughty Street, even though the building had been vacant for decades and needed a ton of work. It had good bones and a great location.
A smart businessman who renovated the space using his own money, Chewning decided pizza was the way to go. "Who doesn't like pizza?" he contends. Not many, that's for sure.
I stopped by Nimbo's on the Friday before opening, after 3,000 pizza boxes had just been delivered, to check out the new space.
Airy and bright, the corner spot is ringed by windows that look out over the nearby Ashley Hall campus. There aren't many residents in the immediate vicinity, but the neighborhoods nearby are built up enough that Chewning expects to do a brisk delivery business when the hospital workers go home. They shouldn't have any trouble finding fans for this pizza, because it's good. Somehow Chewning found a husband and wife couple who are steeped in pizza. Indeed Richy Kline is a pizza master and so is his wife Taylor.
The two met in high school while working at Papa John's, of all places. But Kline says he soon moved to Orlando's on Daniel Island where he learned most of what he knows now. He's worked at EVO and managed Desano's, helping that spot get up and going in Charleston (the downtown space closed, but they have a newer outlet in the airport).
Kline is serious about his pie.
I tried the veggie pizza, which was loaded with tomatoes, green peppers, onions, broccoli and goat cheese, a luscious addition that added a salty bite to the garlic butter-coated crust. When I commented on how tender the crust was, Kline smiled, thrilled that I noticed. He takes pride in making sure he's serving a slice with the right hang. You know, that flop at the end that a good slice of New York style pizza has. They say this is New York style, but because it's made in Charleston, in our particular environment with high humidity and heat and a different kind of water, they label it "hand-tossed artisan pie."
The menu is galactic, as in outer space-themed. It's unnecessary maybe, but the puns are too good: Eggplant Parmageddon, Houston We Have a Pizza, Charlie and the Big Bang, Neptune's Pie, etc.
They'll serve slices at lunch, in an effort to keep things speedy for the hospital crowd, with sandwiches, salads and wings also in the offering.
Nimbo Pizza is located at 161 Rutledge Ave. (843) 972-3802