Part of the appeal of "limited time offers" at restaurant chains - think McDonald's McRib or Wendy's pretzel bacon cheeseburger - is the items are bound to eventually disappear. But Erik Combs, chef of the Mount Pleasant-headquartered Wild Wing Cafe, says the scheme also gives chains an opportunity to assess the popularity of new dishes before adding them to the permanent menu.
Wild Wing's flatbreads evolved from a limited time offer. "We've had them for years now," Combs says.
The flatbreads have been on the menu for so long that they're due for an update. The chain's new menu, rolling out in August, will feature redesigned flatbreads.
"We've designed a completely new style," Combs says. "The whole thing, top to bottom, is changed."
Although Combs refrained from detailing the revamped appetizer's architecture, he says new toppings include cilantro pesto and shrimp with red onions.
Other additions to the new menu include honey lime Sriracha wings and honey lime Sriracha salad dressing. The chain's also planning another limited time offer in June: The "light and fresh" menu emphasizes veggie wraps and salads.
Although Wild Wing will enlist LTOs for full-time duty, Combs says he has no intention of ever formalizing the chain's "secret menu," which other restaurants sometimes use as a tool to cheaply gauge customer interest in an item. At Panera Bread, the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl and the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl recently made the jump from the "hidden menu" to the posted menu board.
Combs says he doesn't want to interfere with the sense of "involvement" that comes from ordering an off-menu item. According to Combs, the quintessential "secret" item at Wild Wing Cafe (these secrets typically aren't very closely guarded: In-N-Out Burger publishes its secret menu on its website) is the "buff-ilada," first dreamed up at a Charleston location.
"It's not something we do, mix sauces at random," Combs says of the buffalo sauce blended with spicy ranch. "It's something that guests like to call their own. If someone orders it, you know they're in the know."
Geoff Rhyne, who's served as The Ordinary's chef de cuisine since the seafood hall's opening, recently left the restaurant to become sous chef of Leon's Oyster Shop.
"I worked closely with Geoff opening The Ordinary, and was consistently wowed with his creativity, leadership and team-building abilities," Leon's co-owner Brooks Reitz says. "When the opportunity to work together again arose, I considered myself very lucky, and was honored to have him be a part of our team."
Ari Kolender, another alum of The Ordinary, is serving as head chef. Kolender was chef de cuisine at Los Angeles' Red Medicine before returning to his hometown of Charleston.
Shifting to a sous chef role will allow Rhyne to tilt his work-life balance back in favor of his family, which is set to grow in the next few weeks. Rhyne's wife is due to deliver their first child on June 23.
"Growing up, I didn't really have a father, so I always said when I had this opportunity, I would be the best father I could be," Rhyne says. "It's not about me. It's about my son to be. I can't wait for this little guy to come along."
Although Rhyne says he'll miss working directly with fishermen and other purveyors, he says the daytime schedule means he'll be able to "have dinner at home with my wife every night."
"I don't know how other chefs do it," he continues. "The chef's life requires a lot of sacrifices. I can go back to a job. I can't go back to see my son walk for the first time."
A former college baseball player, Rhyne began his kitchen career at FIG, according to his biography on starchefs.com. After working under Mike Lata for two years, Rhyne accepted a chef de cuisine job in Traveler's Rest, where he became active in the nascent farm-to-table movement and was a founder of Slow Food's Upstate chapter. In 2008, he was named executive chef of SugarToad in Naperville, Ill. Rhyne returned to FIG in 2011.
In deference to his respect for Lata and his co-workers - as well as what they've accomplished since the opening of The Ordinary, which was named to numerous best new restaurant lists in its first year - Rhyne is angling to make his departure as painless as possible. "My goal is to put the restaurant in position to take another step forward," he says.
Rhyne will remain at The Ordinary through the Spoleto Festival, which is an extremely busy stretch.
"There's not a tremendous rush," Lata says of plans to replace Rhyne. He's received applications from across the country but is confident he and the current staff can handle cooking duties until the right candidate emerges.
"My summer schedule is pretty light, so I'm going to re-immerse myself in the kitchen on a daily basis," Lata says.
A recent search for a FIG pastry chef culminated with the hiring of Melanie Durant, who's scheduled to start work next month. As first reported by Atlanta Magazine, the Empire State South executive pastry chef was drawn to FIG's "simplified and focused" approach.
Another round of renovations planned for FIG this summer include the creation of a small pastry area, from which Lata suspects award-winning work is likely to emerge. Food & Wine magazine named Durant one of 2013's best new pastry chefs on the strength of her Greek yogurt cheesecake with hazelnut caraway milk crumb, rum raisins, poached pineapple and rye bread ice cream.
"She's a superstar," Lata says. "I hate to put the cart before the horse, but maybe we can get her national recognition."
If renovations proceed according to schedule, Graze will celebrate its fourth birthday this September by opening a second location in Summerville.
The popular Mount Pleasant restaurant is occupying the space that previously housed Moose's Famous BBQ. The new Graze will seat 120 people, or 50 more people than the Mount Pleasant dining room can accommodate.
Chef Michael Karkut says the Summerville menu will be "about 95 percent" the same as the Mount Pleasant menu, although he anticipates adding a few different dishes or drinks "to differentiate it." The restaurant will have a full bar.
Graze is owned by Karkut, his co-chef Derek Lathan, and Bradford Bobbitt, who runs the front of the house. Since Lathan lives in West Ashley and Karkut lives in Summerville, the plan is for Lathan to helm the Mount Pleasant kitchen while Karkut takes charge of the Summerville kitchen.
"We'll swap once in a blue moon," Karkut adds.
The restaurant turns four on Sept. 15.
"We're doing a lot of renovations," Karkut says of the projected opening date. "It will take some time."
For more on Graze, visit grazecharleston.com. The new restaurant will be at 115 East Fifth Street North.