Three-and-one-half years after leaving Peninsula Grill, Robert Carter is returning to downtown Charleston as a fine dining chef.
Barony Tavern at the Renaissance Hotel is scheduled to open on Feb. 25. Carter describes the menu for the 100-seat restaurant as “a collection of my thoughts and experiences.”
In Carter’s telling, the timing of the opening isn’t accidental: He claims a non-compete clause meant he was bound by geographical and conceptual restrictions for three years after his departure from Peninsula Grill, leaving him to open restaurants such as Rutledge Cab Co., an all-day breakfast joint in Wagener Terrace.
“But that’s not really what I do,” Carter says. “This is the restaurant I’ve been wanting to do.”
Peninsula Grill owner Hank Holliday disputes Carter’s charcterization of their agreement.
“Chef Bob must a bit confused about non-compete,” Holliday says. “There is not, nor has there ever been, a three-year non-compete. Nevertheless, as always, we wish Bob nothing but the best in his ongoing endeavors.”
Asked to confirm that non-compete restrictions were indeed responsible for his prolonged absence from downtown Charleston’s fine-dining scene, Carter demurred, saying, “I would prefer not to discuss details of past negotiations. I don’t want any negativity associated with my past or present career path.”
Carter describes his forthcoming restaurant as “chic upscale,” which means “not every table has a white tablecloth” -- although most will be dressed in their high-end best. “The food and service will be top-notch,” he promises.
As head of the hotel’s food and beverage department, Carter will have responsibility for three meals a day, plus private dining and room service. But in Charleston, he says, very few visitors hole up to eat – especially with so many nearby dining options.
“Wentworth between Meeting and King,” Carter marvels. “I don’t know how many addresses are as identifiable as that.”
Despite the restaurant’s hotel location, Carter is looking forward to reuniting with local diners, who he fears have been left out of the latest wave of restaurants. (The hotel setting also comes with a parking lot.)
“I’ll offer a place they can call their own,” he says.
During the year it took Carter and the hotel to work out partnership details, he hammered out a slogan for the Barony, which will also feature a bar: “Southern-inspired, simply prepared and graciously served.”
And Carter believes he’s now contractually free to fulfill the motto.
“There are now no restrictions on my ability to be a professional chef,” he says.