“On the turnaround thing,” chef Lenny Russo says. “It isn’t a turnaround.”
The acclaimed Minnesota chef’s upcoming stint at Harold’s Cabin, Rutledge Cab Co. and The Container Bar was characterized by the Minneapolis food writers who broke the story as an effort to “turn (the restaurants) around.” But Russo now says that he doesn’t have anything so dramatic in mind for his Charleston stay.
“One blanket statement doesn’t really do it justice, but what I can say is the teams have just done a really great job in establishing great foundations,” Russo says. “I’m there to take it to the next level.”
According to Russo, who contacted The Post and Courier before leaving for Europe to lecture on sustainable gastronomy, the restaurants owned by Mike Veeck and Bill Murray are already succeeding.
“They just need a fresh set of eyes to push the envelope even further,” he says.
During his initial trip to Charleston, Russo visited all three venues. Among the things which impressed him were the “incredible service” at Rutledge Cab Co. and the crowd at The Container Bar.
“It was packed,” he says. “Everyone was having a great time. They just need more.”
As for Harold’s Cabin, he says, “I really fell in love with Harold’s Cabin. I think (co-owner) John (Schumacher) and the team are just killing it with the whole ambiance.”
While Russo was checking out the restaurants, his wife was taking in Charleston. She insisted that Russo turn down offers from hospitality groups in other cities.
“There’s a vibrancy in the South that’s unlike anywhere else, and that’s part of its charm,” says Russo, who was last professionally associated with Charleston in the early 1990s. He then served as a consultant to Fulton Five.
“Things have obviously changed remarkably,” he says. “We walked down King Street and I was like, ‘Holy cow, look at this.’ ”
Russo says he plans to let the restaurants’ current employees take the lead on tweaks and improvements. He’ll ultimately puzzle out whether any or all of the restaurants are suitable for franchising, but is relying on homegrown expertise to help guide his thinking.
“I’m there to offer my mentorship in whatever way I can,” he says. “I’m not the bull in the china shop kind of guy. We’ll work together on having fun.”