Mercantile and Mash replaces chef on eve of opening

A peek into the new bar side of Mercantile and Mash housed in the Cigar Factory on East Bay St. will have food service, a coffee shop and a bar. Friday September 18, 2015. Grace Beahm/Staff

With its private grand opening party less than 26 hours away, Mercantile and Mash today announced the food emporium has replaced its executive chef.

Tim Morton, who formerly served as executive sous chef at Raleigh’s The Umstead Hotel, is taking over the leadership position from Trey Dutton. Last month, Food & Wine Magazine named Dutton to its list of “5 Charleston Rising Stars to Watch.”

“Trey and I have just decided to parts ways,” says Steve Palmer, managing partner of The Indigo Road, the restaurant group behind The Cigar Factory development. “It’s just us mutually agreeing that this may not be the best role for him. Sometimes you don’t know this until you get closer to the opening.”

Indigo Road in 2014 hired Dutton away from The Inn at Palmetto Bluff. While stationed there, he launched Southern Keep, a line of pickles and preserves: Palmer confirms that Mercantile still intends to stock Southern Keep products.

According to Palmer, Morton worked at Alinea for more than a year before relocating to North Carolina for his three-year stint at The Umstead. He was not involved in Mercantile and Mash prior to Dutton’s departure, but was recommended by Palmer’s friend and former Umstead chef, Scott Crawford, who this week is opening a food hall-like venue in Raleigh.

Morton won’t join the team until Oct. 1, but Palmer is confident the kitchen crew can handle the scheduled opening.

“Our sous chef said, ‘let’s open’,” Palmer says. “Obviously if we were panicked, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Complicating the situation is Indigo Road’s lack of experience with food halls: The bar component feels familiar, Palmer says, but he suspects the market will lead to nights “spent staring at the ceiling.” Still, he says the project benefitted from the input of multiple people, including Atlanta chef Anne Quatrano, so he doesn’t think it will falter in Dutton’s absence.

“It was always a collective vision,” he says.

Indigo Road weathered an early chef switch at Indaco, the group’s last Charleston project: Opening chef Robert Berry was deemed a “bad fit” four months into service. His replacement, Michael Perez, has since been promoted to executive chef of both Indaco and its sister restaurant in Atlanta, Colletta; Palmer says Perez has “got his hands” on Mercantile and Mash, and will help with the transition.

“I’ve never quite been in this position before, which shows me there is always something new in this business,” Palmer says. “But we feel like invitations have gone out; the Champagne is ready and we have 400 people coming tomorrow night. The show must go on. We feel pretty good about where we are.”