The Post and Courier Food section since August has been checking in weekly with four downtown Charleston restaurants coping with the coronavirus pandemic and recovering from restrictions designed to contain it. The following three restaurants are still finding their way back to normalcy. For previous installments of the series, as well as more information about the featured restaurants and their chosen strategies for success, click here.
Harold's Cabin: Loss for words
Plenty of the more than 1,200 fans of Harold’s Cabin who cheered the westside restaurant’s reopening announcement on Instagram had something to say about it. Longtime customers listed their favorite drinks, shared their pre-pandemic memories, and filed requests for the return of raisin bread and a charcuterie platter.
“I literally moved to another part of town because I didn’t think you were opening,” read one bittersweet note.
But a significant number of the supporters were reduced to expressing their joy in emojis. They crammed the comments section with repeated images of Champagne bottles, hearts, party hats, clapping hands and huzzah hands.
Owner John Schumacher was close to speechless.
“The response has been nothing short of overwhelming,” he said last week, recounting customers’ offers to volunteer and media requests for interviews. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but it’s humbling, and I’m filled with gratitude.”
Harold’s Cabin will reopen in July.
Chasing Sage: Final countdown
Here’s the funny thing about time: No matter how many minutes lead up to a momentous event, there is always a last minute.
It could be the second minute of the countdown. Or in the case of Chasing Sage, which was forced by the pandemic to postpone its opening by 15 months, it could be the 647,999th minute.
Either way, it’s always at the last minute that something goes wrong.
Not seriously wrong, necessarily. But anyone who has opened a restaurant knows no amount of planning can avert an anxiety-inducing mechanical breakdown or staff meltdown just before the doors open for the first time.
Chasing Sage is closing in on its last minute, with friends and family invited to a trial-run dinner on June 19. Then, on June 22, the public will be admitted to the restaurant for the very first time — or at least those members of the public who hold tickets to The Post and Courier’s subscribers-only dinner.
On June 23, Chasing Sage opens for regular service.
“We’re so excited,” owner Walter Edward said. “I’ve made it a point to make friends with a lot of farmers and tell them the restaurant we’re doing is based on what you’re doing. It’s so great to text these guys now and be like, ‘We’re there. Bring us what you’ve got.’ ”
While the Chasing Sage which customers will see is the Chasing Sage that its owners always intended to offer to Charleston, the intervening months spent serving takeout food left a mark on its menu. Many of the items were devised for the themed pop-ups that supplied a stopgap when it wasn’t safe to allow people in the dining room.
The watermelon salad first appeared on the Thai menu, for instance. The eggplant terrine made a cameo when all the to-go food was French. And the pork belly was perfected during the Korean pop-up’s run.
There’s also a steak on the opening menu — although general manager Max Clarke just last week realized there weren’t any steak knives in the restaurant’s utensil collection.
“We hadn’t even picked them,” he said.
Since then, the knives have been selected and ordered. Last-minute crisis averted.
Butcher & Bee: Regular restaurant life
If given a choice, most people would opt not to have a catalytic converter stolen out of their company van.
But if given a choice between losing a car part and laying off staff, watching revenue drop to nothing overnight and staving off a deadly disease, the former scenario doesn’t sound all that bad. For Butcher & Bee owner Michael Shemtov, who ended last week short one catalytic converter he had at its start, the pandemic put business headaches in perspective.
“We’re kind of ready to be dealing with the not-so-much COVID issues and get back to the craziness that’s regular restaurant life,” Shemtov said.
That readiness was palpable months ago. But acting on the feeling is now merited by dwindling COVID-19 cases, steady customer traffic and a stable group of employees.
Crediting the community with helping to keep the restaurant afloat when the future was uncertain, Shemtov said, “You know, we definitely came out of this stronger somehow.”
After everything, Butcher & Bee has come out of this. There’s nothing left to do but fix the van and wait for the next manageable problem.