Hollings Cafe serves up empathy and egg salad

Hanna Raskin

The separation between the editorial and sales departments of newspapers is so firm that I often forget when I introduce myself over the phone as “Hanna Raskin from The Post and Courier” that the person on the other end has no clue why I’m calling. The staffer who last week answered the phone at Hollings Café, for instance, clearly figured I was looking to sell an ad.

“Maybe they want to do an article on how great we are,” I heard her say teasingly as she handed over the phone to owner Jose Perey.

Exactly right. The three-year old MUSC canteen is doing an excellent job with salads and sandwiches, although it’s largely unknown beyond the hospital. I was tipped off to Hollings Café’s substantial egg salad, thickened with mustard and tinged with garlic, by a friend who’s lately had the misfortune of having to make multiple visits to the Hollings Cancer Center. The sandwich is the only guaranteed good outcome of an appointment.

Perey is highly aware of the service his little café provides to people at difficult junctures.

“Where we are, folks are so vulnerable. They need as much kindness as they can get,” he says, his voice breaking. “I kind of choke up when I talk about it.”

Prior to opening in the hospital, Perey and his wife, Wendy, had a string of restaurants across the county.

Wendy Perey’s mother in the 1980s owned Emperor’s Choice in North Charleston: “She had a food show in Singapore,” says Jose Perey, who became a customer after being transferred to a bank in the neighborhood. The Pereys married in 1985, and went on to open Taste of China on Isle of Palms; Chinatown in Monck’s Corner; Charlie Steakery franchises; Majestic Grille and Wholly Cow ice cream shops.

The menu at Hollings Café bears traces of the couple’s previous endeavors: They serve dessert coffee drinks and ice cream treats, as well as chicken wraps, BLTs, ham sandwiches, Cobb salads, soups and other midday staples.

“Everything is made to order,” Perey says.

Perey delivers lunches to different departments on campus, which he says has helped popularize the café’s chicken salad, spiced with curry.

“It kind of spreads the word,” he says. “When something’s good, people eventually hear about it.”

Hollings Café is located near the elevators on the first floor of the Hollings Cancer Center, 86 Jonathan Lucas Blvd. It’s open weekdays from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call 792-1414 or visit http://www.muschealth.com/cancer/patient_resources/hollingscafemain.htm.