Southern Season opens to rave reviews in Mount Pleasant

Margarita Lorenzo peruses the thousands of items at the new Southern Season speciality store that opened Thursday in Mount Pleasant.

Don and Nancy Novek have ordered a special coffee blend from Southern Season ever since leaving Chapel Hill, N.C., for Florida in 1992.

Now living in Mount Pleasant, they won’t have to anymore.

Southern Season has followed them to the Lowcountry.

The specialty retailer of upscale food, kitchenware, a cooking school and restaurant opened Thursday in what was a shuttered Food Lion grocery store on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant.

Among the 80,000 items throughout the 44,000-square-foot culinary mecca, customers will find chocolate-covered bacon bars, Japanese rice mix, pineapple chipotle salsa, Insanity hot sauce, and even a few private-label Southern Season items such as salt and pepper peanuts.

“You would have to shop at 20 different stores to find what we have here,” said Clay Hamner, CEO of Southern Season, as he walked through the store after snipping the ribbon with local dignitaries for the retailer’s official launch. “You won’t find the depth of items we have anywhere else.”

Just don’t look for Campbell soup, Pillsbury products or everyday staples such as produce, milk and fresh meats. The store doesn’t stock them.

“Someone asked me what kind of store Southern Season is and I told them, ‘There is nothing here you need and everything you want,’” Hamner quipped during the opening ceremony as a huge crowd of store employees, town officials and eager shoppers gathered in the parking lot.

The grand opening celebration continues through Sept. 22 with specials every day.

“This is a great asset to the town of Mount Pleasant,” Mayor Billy Swails said. “We have something that (Charleston Mayor) Joe Riley and (North Charleston Mayor) Keith Summey wish ... they had.”

Shoppers seemed to take to the store instantly.

“From what I see it’s very impressive,” said Bill Poor of Mount Pleasant as he looked over the vast array of bottled hot sauces on the shelves. “I’m looking at all the different things they have, but I’m more interested in the kitchen equipment.”

Whitney Mersereau of West Ashley and Sharon Poole of James Island stopped by the chocolate bar section for a glance.

“I think it’s amazing,” Poole said. “I want to go through every section in here.”

Over in the wine and beer section, Rush and Judy Dixon of Mount Pleasant-based Rush3 Product Design Studio demonstrated their one-handed bottle opener called Kebo, a device carried in Southern Season’s flagship Chapel Hill store.

“It’s nice that they came to Mount Pleasant, and we already had that established relationship,” Rush Dixon said.

Their inventive chop sticks for children called Chomp Stix are also stocked in the cookware section.

“We are very humbled that the retailer would team up with us to sell our products,” Judy Dixon said. “They see the uniqueness in them.”

In the sauce section, Neita Wiese talked about what it meant for Southern Season to stock her three lines of Neita’s Charleston Vinaigrettes and Marinades.

“With my product now in this store, I will now be in the Chapel Hill store and roll into their expansion as well,” Wiese said.

Up front in the 48-seat cooking class kitchen, culinary director Marilyn Markel said chefs from across the nation will come to teach.

“It’s like dinner and a show if you come to a demo class,” said Markel, who moved to Charleston from Chapel Hill and will oversee all of the cooking schools as the company expands.

It’s next store will open in the summer of 2014 in Richmond, Va., and others will follow in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.

“This is a perfect place for Southern Season,” said Nancy Novek, who with her husband, Don, are huge fans of the store. “If Southern Season doesn’t make it here, they can’t make it anywhere.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or