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New Charleston-area restaurants scheduled to debut during pandemic are now or nearly open

Chasing Sage

Chasing Sage is one of many restaurants delayed in opening by the novel coronavirus. Hanna Raskin/Staff

When John Adamson sketched out his new vegan restaurant on Upper King Street, he planned for the décor to reference the year 2048. By his calculations, that’s when the world would start its inevitable freefall, based on how voraciously its inhabitants have been gobbling up natural resources.

Now, he says, “I guess Neon Tiger can be set in the present. I knew the apocalypse was upon us, but thought we had a bit more time.”

Adamson is aiming to open Neon Tiger in early June, almost three months after its initial projected opening date.

The restaurant was supposed to launch right around the time Gov. Henry McMaster suspended dine-in service statewide. And while that order was rescinded earlier this month, Neon Tiger couldn’t roar out of the gate as soon as it was legal because its chef is “trapped in Canada” behind a border closed to prevent the coronavirus’ spread.

Once Doug McNish arrives, Adamson says, they’ll begin redesigning the restaurant to comply with recommended health and safety guidelines.

“Our plan will surely be altered,” he says.

Neon Tiger is just one of several local restaurants that saw its debut delayed by the pandemic and efforts to contain it. In addition to facing the prospect of severely diminished revenue which all restaurants are now confronting, these venues have to win over patrons who never had the chance to experience their brands in full bloom. Customers willing to accept the takeout translation of a longtime favorite may find less charm in a box of unfamiliar hummus wraps.

Yet few if any Charleston area restaurants that at the start of the year were promoting their imminent openings have publicly backed away from their stated intentions. Here’s the latest update on other high-profile restaurants that were scheduled to open in the spring:

Bumpa’s

Usually when a granddad’s in a mischievous mood, the only thing to emerge from it is a quarter, pulled from behind an ear. But Dan and Conor Sullivan credit their grandfather’s “playful spirit” with inspiring the menu at their forthcoming Cumberland Street bar, which also bears his nickname.

Most of the dishes at Bumpa’s involve potatoes. The Sullivans, who have a combined 25 years of experience in corporate management and sales, are particularly proud of their hand-cut French fries.

“We’re carrying on (Bumpa’s) legacy,” Conor Sullivan is quoted as saying in a press release.

Although the pair planned to pick up his legacy in April, a spokeswoman says Bumpa’s is now aiming to open by the beginning of June.

Chasing Sage

The most visible of the postponed projects, Chasing Sage sits fully furnished near the intersection of Rutledge Avenue and the Charleston Crosstown.

Peering into the ghost restaurant is something like looking back in time, since many of the decorative touches which were fashionable in early 2020 are at odds with pandemic-era operating procedures, including close-together barstools and shared bench seating with hard-to-sanitize pillows. But according to a publicist, the restaurant is about to spring to life.

“Chasing Sage is gearing up to open soon, but (owners Cindy Edward, Walter Edward and Forrest Brunton) haven’t yet set a date,” Annie Byrd Hamnett says.

When Chasing Sage was first announced, it was described as an “herb-forward” small plates restaurant.

Emeline

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Emeline, a hotel set to open at the 181 Church St. address which previously belonged to the DoubleTree Hotel and Suites Charleston-Historic District, will house two restaurants: Frannie & the Fox, “a wood-fired eatery serving regional ingredients with Italian sensibilities;” and Clerks Coffee Company, a café serving bread, pastries and gelato.

According to a publicist, both will debut when the hotel begins welcoming guests in July. Emeline had originally targeted a May launch.

“Precise capacity upon opening is still being determined,” Elsbeth Pratt says.

Gale

It’s difficult to pin down a missed opening date for Gale because the Italian restaurant in fact opened on March 4, but two days later closed indefinitely to deal with a staffing shortage.

Gale was still closed when the restaurant sector was forced to shift to takeout, but owner Brett Chizinski devised a to-go program exclusively for residents of Meeting Streets Lofts, the downtown complex in which Gale is located.

Like the dine-in version of the restaurant, the takeaway iteration lasted just two days. Chizinski was forced to halt it when he acquired a stomach infection that resulted in an eight-day hospital stay.

He’s now fully recovered and hoping to restart the limited to-go menu within days.

“There is absolutely no excuse for being nonchalant about a virus like this, especially when we've had very little time to do scientific testing and understand the full scope of its impact,” Chizinski says of plans beyond that. “There are way too many people on Facebook who have seemingly earned doctorates in virology overnight after reading one or two news articles online.”

Pep Rolls Cafe

“It’ll take more than a pandemic to shut our doors for good,” says Mathias Hickman of Pep Rolls, which set up its fixed Mount Pleasant location while South Carolina was under a stay-at-home order.

“(We) spent the time remodeling, updating our menus and spreading the word,” says Hickman, who sold pepperoni rolls out of a truck before earlier this year purchasing Carpentier’s Wine and Dine at 976 Houston Northcutt Blvd.

The hybrid Pep Rolls Café, which sells chicken salad sandwiches and BLTs, along with West Virginia’s best-known contribution to American food culture, is open daily from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. It plans to celebrate its grand opening on June 21 with a buy one, get one promotion, which applies to the entire menu.

Etc.

Finally, a few places which opened in the weeks prior to the pandemic are now taking a second shot at getting established.

Galpao Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse, which on Feb. 7 opened in the former Tradd’s, is back in business, although spokeswoman Trix Rizzardo says, “We have modified our salad bar serving method in order to comply with the guidelines issued by the governor.”

(The guidelines suggest restaurants “have staff dispense food from buffets or discontinue these services.” Rizzardo did not respond to a message asking which tactic the California-based chain selected.)

And while the indoor seating area at Annie O’Love’s Café of Sweet Abundance remains closed for now, owner Annie Oswald is continuing to offer takeout. Her business flourished during the crisis. “People have wanted good healthy treats during the pandemic, so I have been blessed,” she says.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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