Charleston has lost its only Ethiopian restaurant, but simultaneously gained its only Nigerian restaurant.
Sweet Savor this month opened in the North Charleston strip mall space recently vacated by Ethiopian Taste.
“It was personal problems that came up here and there,” Ethiopian Taste owner Nitsuh Woldemariam says of the restaurant’s closing, which occurred around the time of its first anniversary. “It was too stressful for us to keep up.”
As Woldemariam was deciding to shut down her operation, her husband’s colleague was looking for a space to open a Nigerian restaurant.
“My wife, she loves to cook, and a lot of people love her style of cooking,” Adegbuyi Ogunbule explains. After a successful run as a caterer for home parties and church socials, “her business grew so big we had to register it.”
The Ogunbules remodeled the Dorchester Road restaurant so customers would feel as though they were paying a visit to Nigeria. “We’re not only selling food, we’re selling culture,” Ogunbule says.
As for Dayo Ogunbule’s food, Sweet Savor serves a full menu of Nigerian specialties, including meat pies, jollof rice, pepper stew and ogbono soup, served with pounded yam, cassava flakes, yam flour or semovita, a kind of semolina that resembles pounded yam.
“We eat a lot of vegetables, but we make vegetables tasty,” Adegbuyi Ogunbule says of traditional Nigerian cuisine. “We marinate our soup with melon seed and spices. Most Caucasians and African-Americans that try our soup, they come back.”
As Charleston’s first Nigerian restaurant, Sweet Savor has encountered some provisioning problems: The Ogunbules make regular inventory-stocking trips to Atlanta.
Sweet Savor offers a variety of items by special order, such as peppered gizzard, peppered snail, spicy cow foot and sauteed gizzard with plantains.
“The Nigerian population in Charleston is exploding,” says Adegbuyi Ogunbule, whose family owns restaurants in his native Lagos. But he emphasizes that his wife’s talents are appreciated by “everybody that eats.”
“We’re open for everyone who likes good food,” he says.”
Located at 5060 Dorchester Road, Sweet Savor is open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. every day but Sunday. For more information, call 469-2559 or go to sweetsavorafricanrestaurant.com.
Although Charleston Bakery and Deli stays open until 9 p.m. most days, the Summerville restaurant’s menu doesn’t change in the evening: Customers have always had to select a salad or sandwich and call it dinner.
Now, though, the deli is readying to institute full-fledged dinner service. Come Feb. 11, Charleston Bakery and Deli will feature an entree menu eight months in the making.
“We’re very successful,” owner Randy Jarvis says. “But the true test is: Can we do dinner?”
According to Jarvis, the menu incorporates nostalgic childhood favorites, such as lobster Cantonese, and a few of his current obsessions, including barbecue shrimp and pho.
“We’re going to knock it out of the park,” Jarvis says of the Vietnamese beef noodle soup, noting that he plans to use real broth, as opposed to the powdered starter associated with inferior pho houses.
Charleston Bakery and Deli specializes in traditional Jewish dishes, but Jarvis, who serves a BLT by day, doesn’t plan to practice “kosher-style” cooking at night. (While “kosher” entails a rigid set of dietary restrictions, “kosher-style” refers to food that could plausibly be kosher, but isn’t: The century-old cuisine makes room for uncertified ingredients and forbidden foods, so long as they’re effectively disguised.)
In addition to shrimp and lobster, Jarvis will offer seven different bowls of mussels and seven different clam bowls.
Jarvis, 56, grew up boiling bagels at his father’s North Miami Beach bakery. “Without gloves!” he says. “Gloves were for sissies.” That impatience for frills is evident in his current approach to kitchen matters.
“We’re not throwing any drips on a plate,” he says. “We’re not hiring a chef.”
But Jarvis is hiring servers, and equipping them with iPads for order-taking.
“They have to have talent and passion,” Jarvis says of the people he’s looking to hire. “I’m very passionate.”
Charleston Bakery and Deli is at 10597 Dorchester Road. For more information, call 875-0630 or go to charlestonbakeryanddeli.com.
Anti-brunch sentiment hasn’t exactly seized downtown Charleston, where bleary-eyed diners every Sunday wait patiently for crab cakes benedict and bread pudding. But the national brunch backlash last year climaxed with the New York Times’ publication of an essay titled “Brunch is for Jerks,” in which author David Shaftel complained the meal is impractical, juvenile and enjoyed almost exclusively by white people.
It’s the final attribute that inspired Black Brunch, a new civil rights protest strategy that reached New York City earlier this month. The tactic, which originated last month in Oakland, Calif., calls for protesters to enter swanky restaurants serving brunch and read the names of black people killed by police.
“Basically, it’s about going into predominantly white spaces and letting them know we exist,” says Blake Simons, a University of California Berkeley student who organized a Black Brunch action along an upscale street near campus. “We’re letting people know our pain.”
According to Simons, the grassroots movement was partially modeled after the 1960s lunch counter sit-ins that were a cornerstone of the struggle to desegregate Southern businesses (In Charleston, Burke High School students in 1960 staged a one-day sit-in at the S. H. Kress & Co., galvanizing older black leaders in the community.) In this instance, though, the restaurants are backdrops, not antagonists.
“Some people are saying ‘hey, why don’t you take it to the police station?,’ ” Simons allows. But he says protesters are trying through disruption to reach people who might otherwise have the luxury of ignoring police brutality.
“It’s a small inconvenience,” Simons says of the four-and-one-half-minute ritual, timed to reflect the four-and-one-half hours Michael Brown’s body was left on a Ferguson, Mo. street. “We’re inconvenienced every day as black people.”
Simons says the Black Brunch demonstration was well-received in Berkeley, a famously progressive city.
“We told people, ‘if you stand up for black people, stand up now,’ ” Simons says. “What was beautiful is we saw people stand up.”
He adds that support wasn’t unanimous: Even at the same table, eaters made different decisions about how to respond to the protest.
More hostile reactions surfaced on social media, but protesters say the tactic, which has been used in Boston and Baltimore, has already gone viral.
Jay-Marie Hill, a member of the Oakland collective that came up with Black Brunch, reports the tactic has evolved since it was first developed as a peaceful alternative to marches, which sometimes turn ugly.
“We knew pouring out mimosas was not going to get the message out,” Hill says. “We didn’t want to be part of that. Black Brunch was a healing space.”
What has remained constant in the develop-ment of the protest is the post-action debriefing, which always takes place over a meal, a brunch, really, at one of the participant’s homes or a black-owned restaurant.
“There’s nothing wrong with eating,” Hill says. “We always break bread together and have a meal. It’s one of the most important parts of it.”