Some recent impactful changes have happened at Cottontown eatery The War Mouth. Bar manager Spencer Robinson and Jenissa Lohnes, the second-in-command cook, have departed from the Southern restaurant, as announced on social media last week.
Longtime Columbia bartender and War Mouth fixture David Adedokun is stepping into Robinson's role, while Lohnes' position is at present unfilled. Since opening in late 2015, the restaurant has developed a strong reputation for its bar program, along with a back-to-Midlands-roots food, due in part to Robinson's leadership.
Robinson and Lohnes are moving to Richmond.
"I don’t know if bittersweet is the right word," co-owner Porter Barron tells Free Times. "I fully support their move, it's sad to lose them."
The War Mouth's bar program, as Robinson describes it, fits snugly into Columbia's culture. It drapes a high prestige cocktail culture within the vibe of a worker's watering hole. It's an unpretentious space where you can get an adventurous craft cocktail, a fine craft beer or a $2 Miller Lite.
"The fun thing about War Mouth, [it's] maybe eclectic, maybe bohemian, we've always been a little outside of a solid description," Robinson says.
Robinson was an unlikely candidate to run a creative bar program. Growing up in a staunchly religious family, he moved to Columbia to attend college. He shares that he started working at The War Mouth before he was 21, found himself attracted to the work and dropped out of the University of South Carolina.
Upon turning 21, he began to work bar shifts and would eventually take over the bar program. He had run it for over two years.
"There's a lot of fun aspects," Robinson details on why he was attracted to mixology. "Definitely the creative side ... then there's the whole social of it. You get to play therapist for people at the end of the day. That was something that was really special. ... It was a great balance."
Barron says that Robinson brought a determination to master the craft to the War Mouth bar.
"It's just his nature to do it right and he's a perfectionist," the co-owner offers. "I feel like that's a bad word, perfectionist, [but] he works hard until he gets it right."
Robinson says he intends to stay in the industry, while Lohnes hopes to do the same in a part-time capacity as she pursues work the medical field as an EMT or in public health.
Lohnes, who worked in the kitchen under chef Rhett Eliott, says the male-dominated nature of the restaurant business was an infuriating hurdle for her early on. She had long worked in the food service industry, mostly as a server or in other front-of-house roles and was taking public health courses at the same time.
"I kind of got a cold shoulder getting into the kitchen for a young female," she retells. "I kind of saw red for a while."
Lohnes tells the story that one day at The War Mouth bar she was expressing irritation at this fact when a curious Eliott asked her what was going on. He later offered her a job.
For about the last eight months, she's been his No. 2 and, which reinvigorated her interest in the industry.
"Doing it for so many years, I had lost a little bit of love for it," Lohnes says. "In the kitchen, its a little bit of a boy's club, in that it's a tight-knit group of people who all grind together. I wanted to experience a different aspect of family."
She describes herself as someone who "talks a lot" and says working in the kitchen gave her the opportunity to slow down. And working at The War Mouth presented a unique aspect.
"They have a good way of elevating people to let them be heard, Rhett and Porter will give you a lot of freedom and space to make mistakes," Lohnes posits. "War Mouth is a little different, the staff runs the restaurant in that way."