Harold’s Cabin, the popular eatery near Hampton Park, might develop a new cocktail named for a beloved regular, Melvin Brown — something involving rum since Brown, an emergency room doctor, is a Navy veteran.
In the meantime, the restaurant changed its name. For a few days only, it was called Mel’s Cabin.
A temporary sign, which was to come down Monday evening, covered the word “Harold’s” and included the phrase “Where all are welcome.”
Why would a neighborhood restaurant take such measures? Because Brown, an African-American, recently was rejected for membership by the all-white Charleston Rifle Club, located about a half-mile north, along the Ashley River, at the base of the peninsula’s “Neck.”
Three white members of the private club sponsored Brown for membership one year ago, confident that their friend’s stellar credentials and deep Charleston roots would convince the club to welcome its first black member. Instead, the advocates of reform ran into a wall of resistance. All it takes is six members to blackball a candidate. At least 11 cast no votes, members said.
“As both a doctor and military veteran (an abbreviated list of his stellar contributions), Mel, our friend, neighbor and Harold’s Cabin regular, chose to stick his neck out to join a club,” restaurant co-owner John Schumacher wrote in an email. “It got chopped off; we only chose to support him and offer a place where he and others will always be welcome.”
Schumacher co-owns Harold's Cabin with actor and part-time Charleston resident Bill Murray. Murray is also a member of the Charleston Rifle Club and has supported the reform effort to integrate the club's membership, according to other members.
Brown said he was disappointed in the results, but that the problem rested squarely with club members who must decide their own future. Their next meeting is Dec. 3. An email seeking comment from the Charleston Rifle Club went unanswered Monday.
Brown said a high school friend was rallying others for the purpose of taking group photographs at the restaurant Monday evening while the sign was still up.
At 6 p.m. a small crowd of friends, colleagues and supporters were sipping drinks and chatting with Brown. One, Andrew McMarlin, brought a sign that read "Veterans Against Racism."
Brown, who now is merely an observer of the controversy, said he appreciated the restaurant’s gesture.
“I was really touched by it,” he said. “Throughout the weekend I was hearing from all these friends, ‘I’m at Mel’s Cabin.’ ”
When the eatery decided to mount its sign last week, it reached out to Brown first to make sure it was OK. Brown said he was uncomfortable with the attention at first and spoke with his wife about the plan.
“She said, ‘You take the lead on this one. You’ve been to Afghanistan two times, I’m sure you can weather this.’ ”
Weathering it he is.
“They’re the quintessential bar/restaurant that I’ve always wanted to have in the neighborhood,” Brown said. “The outpouring of love from them is great.”
The name-change at Harold’s Cabin is an example of community outreach and social and economic justice advocacy. Other area restaurants and leaders in the hospitality industry have provided support for charities or launched efforts to help the disadvantaged.
Dozens of local restaurants participate in Charleston Chefs Feed the Need programs that provide food to soup kitchens and shelters. Edmund’s Oast supports animal rescue programs and efforts to improve the North of Morrison neighborhood, according to its website. And several eateries, such as The Glass Onion, occasionally donate a portion of their profits to local charities.
But this is the first time a Charleston restaurant has changed its name in honor of a patron.
Schumacher said it’s important for businesses to get involved with local issues.
“Every restaurant is part of a neighborhood and a community; but communities don’t need restaurants, restaurants need communities,” he wrote. “Every day restaurants make choices regarding their community involvement and how they can give back, mostly in ways folks aren’t aware of (donations, volunteering, support programs and more). We can all do more. In this instance, we simply chose inclusion.”