Tradd Newton beams, holding aloft a handsome sterling silver cup. Agreeably tarnished, it's the Grand Prize trophy of the 1937 Rhododendron Baby Parade, a gift from his mother on the occasion of his having purchased a mountain home with friends.
"I have this weird infatuation with sterling silver, especially vintage trophies," says Newton, relaxing at home on a clear, sun-splashed day. I've collected 20 or so, which are displayed around the house. I'm not entirely sure why I like them so much, but I do."
Nestled by a fairway on the 15th hole of the Charleston Country Club, the home Newton shares with his wife of 18 years, Weesie, and their three children also is distinguished by an impressive collection of the work of Charleston artists, many of whose studios Newton cavorted in as a kid.
Perhaps it's only fitting. Newton, the son of Buzzy Newton of Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. fame, is as attached to the Holy City heart and soul. And just now, things couldn't be better for the budding hospitality industry whiz, owner of Fleet Landing restaurant and the Vendue Suites B&B.
It's a trophy life.
'I wasn't a desk guy'
Tradd and Weesie Newton jumped into the deep end of the hospitality pool with little or no preamble, but have enjoyed a level of success that has them pondering further expansion of their firm, Newton Holdings.
"After college, I spent a year in Aspen before going to work for our family's business, Piggly Wiggly, and during that time, we acquired McCrady's restaurant," Newton says. "The reins of that were given over to me. I had always had an interest in hotels and restaurants, but in the process of reinventing McCrady's in the mid-'90s, I was bit by the bug."
He succeeded almost immediately, transforming McCrady's into a AAA Four Diamond restaurant. The company sold McCrady's about a year after Newton left Piggly Wiggly to forge an independent career out of his father's shadow.
"I wasn't a desk guy. That was the hard part of the corporate world for me. Although it was a great opportunity to have as a young person, I needed to go a little beyond that, and my father was such a strong presence in creating and developing the Piggly Wiggly business that it was a little intimidating at times. He was a tough act to follow."
The division of responsibility between Newton and his wife is clear cut.
"We handle everything together, but I'm not the numbers guy. You could say I'm more the front of the house and she's back of the house. She handles the finances. It was not her background, but it became her background."
Family and business
The Newtons launched Fleet Landing in 2004, determined that the daunting workload that often attends restaurant ownership would be balanced by the needs of their family. Also with their charitable involvements, which have included serving on the boards of the Lowcountry Food Bank, Medical University of South Carolina Children's Hospital and Lowcountry Children's Center, the last of which now commands most of his attention.
For her part, Weesie was one of the three founders of Women Making a Difference, a group providing grants to local initiatives since 2002.
"I'm from the new school of hospitality, which means I try to balance business demands with the personal," Newton says. "Of course, it also has a lot to do with how big or how small your business is. We were fortunate to find the management staff that we have because we were coming into this just so new. It has made it easier for us to be involved as much or as little as we need to. That was one of the reasons I made the jump. I wanted to have that flexibility, to see my children at different times each day and be involved with them. It has worked out great."
The restaurant trade is among the most challenging, and potentially heartbreaking. One can do everything right — staff, location, a consistently high caliber of food and service — be fashionable for a time, then simply disappear. Newton says having had a retail background in a company such as Piggy Wiggly was enormously helpful.
"There's so many factors involved, from the way patrons feel when they are in there, to what they hear about it, to the location. It's amazing how things can come and go so quickly. It's tough to find that one thing people really want, then pull it off. We're fortunate to be sitting out over Charleston Harbor."
In May, Newton Holdings acquired the three-unit Vendue Suites off Waterfront Park. Newton intends to discharge some of the duties as innkeeper while overseeing Fleet Landing operations from his new office at the Vendue Range address. Further expansion is likely.
"Hopefully, it's the beginning of our expansion," says Newton. "If we can afford it, the sky's the limit. We've been looking for a second restaurant space for a while now. It is exciting to create something distinctive. I'm very detail-oriented, and I love the design process. That's me."
Whether in business or in life, Newton says his passion is making things better, "in any arena." He is also passionate about the issues involved in preserving Charleston's heritage.
"I've lived here my whole life, and I love Charleston. The only other place I can think of that I could live is in Colorado. But I've traveled to a lot of places, and Charleston's my first love.
"For me, a great life is a matter of doing what you enjoy doing and being as successful with it as you can," Newton says. "I have the perfect schedule. My family life is good, my work life is good. I'm very lucky."