Five Points restaurant Sneaky Pete’s is closed and up for sale less than two months after opening. Co-owner Robert Balletine cites poor business in an environment unsuited for his “family-style restaurant.”
“Even though it was growing slowly, it just wasn’t making enough,” co-owner Robert Balletine tells Free Times. “I had to cut the tether off.”
Ballentine cites the college neighborhood’s nightlife culture as one of the reasons his Greene Street venture failed to succeed, along with having to compete against a litany of established restaurants and college bars. Now, he’s ready to move on from the business he closed Dec. 9 — the price tag on the restaurant is $50,000, he says.
“We wanted to make something unique and simplistic and hopefully bring some new blood and life in the area, but it’s very hard, man,” he says. “[Sneaky Pete’s] was very cozy, yet I couldn’t get any families coming down there. … I don’t have any control about what’s going on outside my facility.”
Five Points has long struggled with perception issues, with its seemingly Jekyll and Hyde daily shift — from a daytime retail area to a rowdy nightlife and party hub. But that’s a misnomer, says Steven Cook, owner of Saluda’s Restaurant and president of the Five Points Association.
He says the neighborhood is no worse or better than other Columbia neighborhoods.
“Five Points has always had reputation issues and it's one of those things that drives us crazy,” he says. “There may be an issue in another district in town, but they give the address and that’s it. … In Five Points it will absolutely be in the headlines.”
Despite its reputation, Free Times reported earlier this year that crime was down in the neighborhood from 2017 to 2018, per Columbia Police Department stats. That followed another decline between 2014 and 2015.
The neighborhood also has restaurants that are able to buck being college-centric and succeed, Cook posits. He points to his own Saluda's Restaurant, widely considered one of the best spots in town, and the old Blue Cactus, the Mexican-Korean restaurant that had filled Sneaky Pete’s space for about 25 years before closing in May.
For Sneaky Pete’s, Ballentine says he offered things like outdoor seating and live music in to try to bring families to his restaurant, but was unsuccessful.
The restaurant had other issues too. It struggled to get its beer-and-wine license, only receiving it a week ago. That left the restaurant relying solely on its food options — a range of classic bar food options like burgers, chicken, hotdogs and other fried foods. After receiving the license, Ballentine pushed the newly available alcohol availability with seven social media posts across 10 days.
Ultimately, he says he was spending too much time away from his other business, an auto repair shop, and that imbalance became untenable with poor profits at Sneaky Pete’s.
“I’m a business man through and through, I know when to cut that cord before you get dragged underneath it,” Balletine explains.