When Robert Berry says he’s opening a Mexican restaurant, he means Mexican.
“What you definitely won’t see is short rib tacos,” says Berry, who served as Indaco’s opening chef. He can’t stand “people putting anything they can find in America on a tortilla.”
Instead, Berry says, Pancito & Lefty will specialize in “vegetable-forward, shareable plates” showcasing traditional Mexican spices and cooking techniques. He likens the forthcoming Upper King Street restaurant to Xiao Bao Biscuit in size and philosophy, indicating a willingness to glean inspiration from anywhere in Mexico.
He and business partner Jimmy Poole, who launched The Alley, are now planning a major eating trip to Mexico City and Oaxaca. They’re also likely to pick up ideas for the look of the restaurant, slated to be done up in bright turquoise and electric pink.
“We want to avoid kitschy,” Berry says. “So it’s understated, but comfortable.”
Despite a menu and decor reflecting a faraway country, Berry and Poole want Pancito & Lefty to feel like an essential part of a restaurant neighborhood so new it doesn’t yet have an agreed-upon name. Pancito & Lefty will be located in the former Zappo’s Pizza at 708 King St., fitting it squarely between Leon’s Oyster Shop and St. Alban.
“I love what Sean (Brock)’s doing at Minero,” Berry says. “It’s kind of the best of the best in town. But what I’m seeing is districts: You don’t have to go down to East Bay Street for that.”
Berry adds that he’s hoping to avoid the prices associated with downtown; dishes will cost from $4-$14. He also wants to assign reasonable prices to cocktails drawn from Pancito & Lefty’s lengthy tequila and mezcal list. The 1,600-square-foot building, which is now completely gutted, is abutted by a pair of patios that Poole envisions as ideal settings for drinks.
Poole says he and Berry are thinking not just about how much money customers spend, but how much money employees make. They’re committed to paying a living wage, which a website maintained by MIT pegs at $9.74 an hour for a single, childless adult in Charleston County.
“We feel productivity will be up, and morale will be up,” Poole says.
Predicting that entrenched restaurant practices such as allowing line cooks to volunteer will eventually fade away, Berry says Pancito & Lefty is looking to be a leader in improving work conditions for restaurant staff.
Although they have too much restaurant experience to confidently forecast an opening date, Berry and Poole are aiming to open Pancito & Lefty by late summer. For more information about the restaurant and its progress, visit facebook.com/PancitoLefty or follow its Instagram account, @PancitoLefty.