The local restaurant partnership that cooked up Oak Steakhouse and O-Ku is losing its executive chef, as Brett McKee seeks to roll out a newer dining concept at the national level.
The Indigo Road LLC, which opened and operates the two high-end Charleston restaurants, will continue to run the downtown businesses under industry veteran Steve Palmer.
McKee is breaking away from the partnership to further develop a venture called Roadside Kitchens, which he launched with Palmer last fall with the opening of 17 North in Mount Pleasant.
More recently the concept had added a Charlotte location, and now McKee is looking to expand into other cities with the help of a deep-pocketed financial backer.
McKee and Palmer agreed the split was amicable.
"With the expansion of Roadside Kitchens, it became obvious to Brett and I that in order to give everything the time it deserved there needed to be choices made," Palmer said Wednesday.
"A lot of travel is going to be required of him," he added.
McKee said the Indigo Road venture "has been a great ride, but because we have so much going on, we had to go in different directions."
McKee, who will remain in Charleston, said he is scouting sites for Roadhouse Kitchens locations in Greenville, Nashville, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., among other cities.
He hopes to open 10 to 15 restaurants over the next few years, including at least one more in the Charleston area in the near future.
McKee's partner is JRL Group III, led by venture capital veteran John R. Lakian.
McKee said Roadhouse Kitchens could go public someday if the business takes off.
McKee said a key part of his strategy is to harness social networking sites such as Facebook to help him custom- tailor menus and specials to individual markets based on local tastes and traditions.
"If I go up to Pittsburgh, you're going to see pierogies and stuffed cabbage because there are more Polish up there," he said.
Oak Steakhouse made its debut about six years ago at 17 Broad St. McKee and Palmer opened O-Ku, which specializes in Japanese cuisine, this year at 463 King St.
The upper King restaurant already has an established name in the kitchen with chef Sean Park.
Palmer said he is still interviewing candidates to oversee the food at Oak, where McKee has left "some big shoes to fill on lower Board Street."
Palmer, a former general manager at Peninsula Grill, said diners can expect some new twists and turns once a new chef comes on board, but he sees no dramatic changes on the horizon at Oak.
"Clearly, there are going to be some stylistic changes, but Oak is a steakhouse and Oak will stay a steakhouse," he said.
"We're not going make it into a Thai cuisine restaurant."
Contact John McDermott at 937-5572 or firstname.lastname@example.org.