Here’s a fun clip from our new podcast episode with Steve Palmer. You can listen to the entire interview here on iTunes.
What are the pros and cons of being in such a competitive market like Charleston?
It’s forcing us to think more creatively. I’m paying a lot of attention to the twenty-eight to thirty year olds that are opening their own restaurants. I looked at Jeremiah Bacon, who’s our chef-partner in two restaurants and is my age, and said, “Listen, in two or three years we’re not the ones that need to be coming up with the creative ideas. We’re just not. We need to be listening to the generation behind us.” I’m paying a lot of attention to the young kids that are opening restaurants much earlier than my generation. I was forty before I was a partner in my first restaurant. Now they’re working two, three, four years in a restaurant and then opening their own. I’m watching them both for what I want to do and what I don’t want to do.
The servants-heart mentality isn’t there as much anymore. That’s a non-negotiable for me. I will never compromise on serving others. When I see these hipster restaurants where you feel like you’re privileged just for them to be serving you, I learn a lot about what I don’t want to do. I think people will tire of that. I think when the cool factor wears off, what you’re going to be left with was how you were treated. And I do believe that’s a phase in our industry. It might be a ten-year phase (laughs), but I do believe it’s a phase. We just opened O-ku in Charlotte and it’s very, very busy, and people are, over and over again, talking about the service, the service, the service. I’m starting to see where people are starting to go, “Hey, we want to be treated nice again.” I don’t care if the chef has a bunch of tattoos and they’re playing rap music while I’m eating. Yeah, the space is cool and it’s packed and everybody wants a beer, but I want to at least feel like the people are glad I’m there.
On the other side of that, I see a lot of very creative ideas and things that I wouldn’t have thought of. It’s fun to watch. There’s something to be learned, concepts that five, six, seven, eight years ago, people would not have resonated with. There’s a restaurant here called Xiao Bao Biscuit. It’s an Asian restaurant that was opened in a gas station. The chef is American and his wife is from Vietnam and they opened this small plate Asian place. They’re in a huge spread in Bon Appétit Magazine this month. From a cuisine point-of-view, the lines have gotten really blurred. There are people that are opening Southern restaurants and they’ve got kimchi on the menu. There’s this blurring of the lines, and the food press seems to love those kinds of places.
It’s a very interesting time in our business. But good service is timeless. I think people will come back for it over and over again. It’s what makes people feel good. And I don’t think that’s going to go out of style. I hope it doesn’t.