SCENE: A real estate office in a West Ashley duplex. The firm’s top and only agent is sucking on a vape pen and rifling through paperwork.
AGENT: What can I do you for, son?
YOUNG CHEF: Well, I’m thinking of opening a restaurant. I’m envisioning a real neighborhood-type place, the kind of place where people can drink limited-release sour beers and eat grass-fed steak tartare.
YOUNG CHEF: No?
AGENT: No. That’s a terrible idea for a restaurant. How many times do you think people are going to come back to your restaurant for raw food and weird drinks?
YOUNG CHEF: I hear you. That’s why I’m going to do a bunch of pop-ups with my friends from L.A. and Portland. I know this guy making keto-friendly soba noodles who’s going to crush it in Charleston.
AGENT: You know what kind of noodles I like? Mac. With cheese.
YOUNG CHEF: What?
AGENT: Nothing. How much does your buddy charge for a bowl of buckwheat?
YOUNG CHEF: I mean, it’s a neighborhood restaurant, so we’re keeping everything reasonable. He’s talking about throwing in some organic vegetables, but I told him we have to be able to sell this thing for $27, tops.
AGENT: Alright, I’m going to stop you right there. Have you been over to The Mill Street Tavern yet?
YOUNG CHEF: That place on the other side of Shem Creek? Next to Shem Creek Bar & Grill?
AGENT: Yep, that’s the one. I’m not going to lie: It’s a funny-looking place. Peter Woodman put it together; you know his restaurant Crave, right? Anyhow, it took Peter like three years to get Mill Street Tavern open, because he got it in his head that he wanted the building to look like it had been there since the 1780s. I don’t have the tax records in front of me, but I think it was built in the 1980s. So Peter ends up bringing over an Irish pub in pieces, and then buying doors off a mean old man in Austria. You’ve got to hear Peter tell the story: Those Irishmen are great storytellers, aren’t they?
YOUNG CHEF: Yeah, I guess.
AGENT: But the bar’s just part of it! There’s a rooftop deck upstairs, but inside, the dining room has all this distressed wood and old-fashioned slate floors. Heck, the whole time I was eating, I kept waiting for someone to bring out a spinning wheel. It’s funny: Folks aren’t as chipper about the 18th century as they used to be. I don’t think I’ve seen a room like that since the Bicentennial.
YOUNG CHEF: I was born in 1988.
AGENT: Then you have no idea what I mean when I say I could picture Charles Kuralt in this restaurant.
YOUNG CHEF: Why are you telling me this? I was thinking we could see a few properties today: I hear Goose Creek’s getting hot.
AGENT: Listen, nothing against Goose Creek, but people like looking at Shem Creek. Mill Street Tavern has these picture windows that give you about the prettiest view of the marsh grass and boats going by: It’s downright serene at sunset. You’d never guess that kids are getting drunk and making fools of themselves just down the way. I like to sit in the first booth and sip on a glass of Josh Cabernet.
YOUNG CHEF: I’ve seen that bottle at Sam’s Club for 12 bucks.
AGENT: So what? You think you’re the only person in this room who can appreciate a biodynamic wine? I get that it’s a thrill to drink grower Champagne, but you know what else is thrilling? Going out with my wife for a plate of hash and a cinnamon roll and getting a bill for $20.
YOUNG CHEF: I bet the food’s lousy.
AGENT: Then I hope you’re not a betting man, my friend. Mill Street has a sliced rib eye that I’d put up against most restaurant steaks in town. It comes with a ramekin of blue cheese sauce, but I never use it. Me, I’m happy with the taste of smoke and beef juice. It goes well with my Cab.
YOUNG CHEF: That sounds boring.
AGENT: OK, sure, Mill Street didn’t invent the fried Brussel sprout. Although I’ll admit, you wouldn’t know it from the menu: It’s a side; it’s a salad; it’s an appetizer. Personally, I’d rather get the cubed ahi tuna with mangoes and a sweetish teriyaki sauce. Kind of reminds me of vacation. Maybe it’s the plantain chips. Where was I?
YOUNG CHEF: I said the food sounds boring.
AGENT: Sometimes boring is good. I was at Mill Street with a friend one time, and he wanted to order the pimento crab dip, because he thought it sounded interesting. It was just goopy, and tasted more like mayonnaise than anything else. But I’m not going to complain about a decent dish of roasted golden beets with goat cheese just because I’ve had the same thing at a catered dinner. I like beets. I like Mill Street’s scallops. I’m not as crazy about the barbecue, which is funny, because until Saltwater Cowboys showed up on the creek, Mill Street was going to be a smokehouse.
YOUNG CHEF: And then Woodman just gave up on his passion? Abandoned the dream?
AGENT: Nope. He shifted course, the way smart business owners sometimes do. He also does a nice job of listening to customers. For instance, they all thought Mill Street’s biscuits were too big, so now the kitchen makes smaller biscuits. Easy. Of course, you can only get feedback like that if your servers are paying attention to your guests.
YOUNG CHEF: I’m not going to have too many servers at my restaurant. I think customers are really going to like walking up to the window to get their dishes directly from a cook.
AGENT: Guess what? They won’t. They like servers who are friendly and a peach crisp that’s served hot and bubbly in its pan. Tell you what: I’m going to print out some listings for you to look over. Take them to a place where you can hear yourself think, and the bartender can mix a drink the way you want it.
YOUNG CHEF: You’re sending me to Mill Street, aren’t you?
AGENT: Try the strawberry shortcake.