Summers Corner, a planned neighborhood off Beech Hill Road in Summerville, is trying to entice property buyers with the promise of community gardens and a full-fledged coffee shop folded into its information center. The effort has drawn national attention, with lead developer Susan Watts this fall joining a panel on food and real estate hosted by the Urban Land Institute. But Watts doesn’t believe many master planned communities will attempt to replicate the strategy.
“In non-gated, non-golf course communities, it’s very rare to have anything other than cookies,” Watts says, referring to the typical array of culinary amenities provided to prospective residents. “They may have catered events: None of them have food and wine. Only recently have a couple of brave folks done more than coffee. It takes a certain kind of company and a certain kind of a brand to justify doing something like this.”
One of the first developments to recognize the profit potential of playing to eaters’ interests was Serenbe, located outside Atlanta. The 10-year-old project incorporates a 25-acre organic farm that supports three restaurants, a weekly farmers market and a CSA program. Serenbe also employs a chef-in-residence, who oversees cooking classes and pop-up dinners. “We believe we have the most fully integrated culinary arts in a community to date,” spokeswoman Monica Olsen says.
Other developments now stressing culinary amenities include The Pinehills, New England’s largest planned community, which grows its own fruits and vegetables; and Verrado near Phoenix, which is planting a vineyard to complement its herb gardens, exhibition kitchen and cafe. In the Charleston area, though, Summers Corner has built the most explicit campaign around what Watts calls the city’s “foodie status.”
In addition to hosting intimate wine dinners as a way of introducing Summers Corner, the development created The Corner House, featuring a cafe that’s open to the public. The menu includes “yogurt, fabulous granola with chopped candied ginger and Summerville honey, and a cold tomato soup that is absolutely delicious,” according to Watts, as well as beer and wine. In an area that’s short on coffeehouses, The Corner House has emerged as a venue for locals to work on their laptops and hold church committee meetings.
“The key piece is that oftentimes, when you go into an information center, it’s kind of sterile and someone is there waiting to jump on you, so to speak,” Watts says. “We wanted (prospective buyers) to get a feel for what our community is all about.”
Watts says plans call for outdoor farmers markets, an expanded menu at The Corner House and increased retail opportunities for local food producers.