For the last two weeks, Ros Graverson had moved between the dimly lit Lula Drake Wine Parlour on Main Street and the brightly spartan Irmo bottle shop Craft and Draft, tucked comfortably into a humble strip mall.
The chef at both spots truly was torn between them and the worlds they inhabited. She was prepping for meal service at Craft and Draft in the mornings and heading to Lula after to help prep for the bar's June reopening.
She weighed their respective benefits.
On one hand, she had the prestige and stature that came with cooking in one of Columbia's most well-liked restaurants, where she was given her initial chance to be a chef. On the other was the opportunity presented at Craft and Draft's larger second location, where she had worked for a year and a half amid Lula's pandemic closure, which gave her the chance to enhance a hallmark of Columbia's craft beer growth.
Ultimately a strong offer from Craft and Draft co-owner Kellan Monroe swayed Graverson to stay at what had been firmly described as a temporary position.
"It was a really tough decision. I had horrible anxiety," Graverson said. "When I was telling them I was shaking."
The offer from Monroe includes an enticing possibility: As Craft and Draft looks to expand with future stores, there's strong potential to have Graverson leading a new shop in Savannah, a place she admires for its culinary scene.
Monroe wasn't ready to commit to the brand's move there, but said it was "at the top of the list."
But there's also more room for Graverson to flex her culinary acumen. The craft beer store's original location on Devine Street has no real kitchen. The Irmo location currently supplies any food sold there — boxed charcuterie boards and cold sandwiches — outside of food trucks that frequent the store.
Now, the business is exploring establishing their own food truck that would give them a stronger culinary presence in Columbia, and Graverson would be at the helm of that.
"It's a little bit of a growth thing. She can grow with the business as we grow," Monroe said. "We've always had the idea that we would like to find like-minded people to do what we do here in other places ... not necessarily, say, franchise, but sort of build out as a company."
Throughout her COVID-19 tenure at Craft and Draft, Graverson said she didn't entertain the idea of staying. Monroe and the rest of the team would openly suggest she stay longer, but she wasn't interested in "even having the conversation."
"Lula is just a family. So it was like having to break up," Graverson shared.
But a conversation with her mother and her experience as she began to split time between the two spots helped her realize that staying at Craft and Draft was where she leaned.
Monroe hoped Graverson would ultimately stay. Her impact on business has been evident, with food sales rebounding after slipping early in the pandemic and the highly popular Saturday and Sunday brunch that she started matching Friday nights in terms of sales.
"I wanted her to know that whatever she wanted we would give to her, because we liked having her here that much," Monroe said. "It was, 'What do you need to stay?' That was the conversation we had."
Graverson's loyalty to Lula Drake played a major role in her indecision, but, almost as much as that, was the type of fare she made there compared to Craft and Draft.
At Lula, she emphasized decidedly fancy charcuterie boards and upscale pasta dishes. At the craft beer haven, she's brought the charcuterie boards over, but the menu is mainly made up of sandwiches or wraps accompanied by a bag of chips, coleslaw or pasta salad.
Even some initial aspirations to debut slightly upper-scale fare has been met with the realization that the customer base wants "simple snack things, but make good quality food," the chef said. She points to the restaurant's Cuban sandwich as an example. Its elements are almost exclusively made in house, including the overnight-roasted pork shoulder.
"That was probably one of the biggest things on my mind, like, 'Would I really take this step back?'" Graverson said. "But I think it's just a different challenge, just in a different way."
She admitted that she wondered about whether it was the right career move to stay due to this difference in perceived quality of fare, but ultimately decided it was.
Plus, the new job just suits her personality. It involves a hefty amount of prep work, and as Graverson puts it, she's rather keen on being alone at times.
Now she finds herself perusing beer shops in Portland and New York City to see what kinds of menus are being offered there for inspiration.
"I mean I love (Lula) so much," Graverson concluded. "But it was what's best for my future."