Indigo Road opening culinary complex in Charleston's Cigar Factory

Restaurant consultant Steve Palmer of The Indigo Road (left) and architect David Thompson walk through the event space they're configuring, along with another area that will become a culinary store, in the Cigar Factory on East Bay Street in Charleston.

Since first touring gourmet foods emporium Dean & DeLuca nearly a decade ago, Steve Palmer has wanted to create a similar retail concept in downtown Charleston. But the Indigo Road Restaurant Group managing partner was always stymied by the same question: "Where do you park?"

The answer finally came in the form of the historic Cigar Factory, a 244,000-square-foot building with 177 planned parking spaces. Two weeks after the long-vacant building's purchase by two investment groups, Indigo Road is announcing plans to open a coffee shop, bar, bakery, lunch counter and culinary mercantile on the ground floor.

Anne Quatrano, the Atlanta chef behind the highly successful Star Provisions, is serving as a project consultant and retail buyer. Although the as-yet-unnamed complex won't be an exact copy of Quatrano's venue, Palmer says he hopes to emulate the feel of Star Provisions.

"It will be intimate, it will be authentic," Palmer says. "I want this to be filled with as many South Carolina products as it possibly can."

The 7,500-square-foot shopping, dining and drinking operation will be the building's first tenant to open for business: Palmer is forecasting an October debut. He's eager to open before the holiday season.

Once the building's offices are occupied, Palmer believes the 500 people working in them will become regulars at the coffee shop and bar, which he describes as "casual as we can possibly do a bar." While Palmer was reluctant to fool with custom cocktails again after opening The Cocktail Club, his worries were apparently assuaged by promises of canned beer tubs, a jukebox and a boules court.

Architect David Thompson points out the court could have been installed outside, where there's seating for 40. But according to Thompson, who also designed Indaco and Oak Steakhouse Atlanta for Indigo Road, dedicating an indoor area to games underscores the complex's playful mood.

"The idea is that it's flexible," Thompson says of the court. "It could be used for a buffet, or a band."

Palmer is keen on a rock-'n'-roll element - he and Thompson have discussed black leather as one possible decorative material - but the design of the open space will largely be dictated by the 1882 building's historic character. "These pretty beams we're just going to sand off," Palmer says.

When the building at Columbus and East Bay streets was first constructed, its south end housed a cotton sorting operation. Now, the space will feature a charcuterie and cheese counter, among other display cases.

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"We'll have more space to do more for the restaurants," Palmer says of the in-house charcuterie and pastry production.

The Indigo Road kitchen will also handle catering for a private event space on the second floor.

After visiting various marketplaces in San Francisco, Palmer started contemplating public programming: He envisions inviting cheesemongers to host classes, or giving fisherman Mark Mahefka a place to sell his catch.

"We're thinking about this as a resource for the food community, to draw it all together," Thompson says.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.