Normally, Eater talks to the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary. Since Two Boroughs Larder slipped past us last year, Eater caught up with them for a two year anniversary interview.
When Josh and Heather Keeler set to open Two Boroughs Larder two years ago, they thought they might get a chance to take it easy and break from the hustle of working full-time food and beverage careers. But it didn't really turn out that way. The husband and wife duo left restaurant jobs in Philadelphia and moved to Charleston with plans to open their own place. The blueprint was to start a sandwich shop, a place the Keelers could open during the day and go home in the evenings to enjoy dinner or a movie like normal folks, but that plan didn't even last a week. Their resulting restaurant is now a beloved staple in the Charleston food scene. Josh runs the kitchen, and Heather manages the front of house — together they've created a successful lunch and dinner spot where patrons seek out innovative cuisine. Read on to find out what happened to that original sandwich idea.
Where did the idea for the Two Boroughs Larder come about?
Josh: Initially, it was a sandwich shop. The thought was, we were only going to be open during the day. Heather: That was a cute idea, no? Josh: And we would go from there. Sell sandwiches, small plates, breakfast sandwiches and close at 7:00 p.m. every night. It was supposed to be a bit of a break for Heather and I. Heather: And we were going to do a lot of to-go food. Josh: Yeah, as we got busier. But then, within one week, we changed that format. And we went from making sandwiches to adding more small plates and the menu just kind of developed over time. Heather: (laughs) Josh and I got rid of the sandwich idea within the first week. Josh: I thought I was 100 percent behind it, but I guess that's not really what I wanted to do. We kept pushing the menu and it evolved into what you see now. There's still pieces of our what our original idea was ? Heather: Breakfast sandwiches, bowl of noodles ? Josh: Yeah, we just let it evolve. It was a really strange process because we wanted this break from the restaurant industry but still be involved in it. We wanted a restaurant that was a little more casual and a little easier for us to run, but I got really bored, really, really quick. Heather: The first day we were only supposed to stay open till 7:00 p.m., but when our license came through — it came around 1:00 p.m. — we opened at 3:00 p.m. and we were still supposed to close at 7:00 p.m. But we said, no, let's stay open til 9:00 p.m. tonight. So we started staying open till 9:00 p.m. Josh: And that turned into 10:00 p.m.
The next question was about the differences between your initial concept and what you're doing now, but I think you've covered that.
Josh: It was just a natural change and I think we're more true to what we wanted to do, now, than the unrealistic idea of opening a sandwich shop and to be content with that. Heather: And not so much a sandwich shop, but somewhere you could go during the day and eat — sandwiches happen to be the mainstay of daytime eating. People sort of freak out if you don't have a sandwich on your menu at noon, but if that's all you have at 10:00 p.m., then it's kind of hard to pay your bills.
What are some of the hurdles you've encountered over the past two years?
Heather: (looks towards the window at the cloudy sky) Most recently, the flooding. Josh: The restaurant has flooded five times in the past two months. [Ed. note: Charleston tends to flood in heavy rain storms, causing water to rush into ground-level buildings.] Heather: The walk-in. Josh: Our walk-in died and fell apart. Josh: And the amount of time that we put into this place — we had no perception of how much time we were going to put in. You always think, yes, I'm going to work long days, but we work 16 hours a day. Heather: Easily. Josh: Five days a week and then maybe ten or so hours on our days off. Heather: Even when we go home at midnight, he tries to work on the menu, and I'm returning emails. Josh: And everyone that works here puts in a lot hours, not because I make them — because they come in. The staff knows stuff needs to get done. It's a testament to how good they are. I feel privileged to have them here.You never have any idea how many hours you're going to put into it. Our problems, these are all standard problems, we've never been surprised by any of them. Heather: Except for the flooding.
You've received a lot of acclaim and accolades, do you have a favorite?
Josh: I know Heather's — it was Architectural Digest. Heather: That was the first national credit we received. Josh: We've been very, very, very fortunate, and I'm honored and humbled every time anyone wants to write about us. I think my biggest might be having been nominated for a James Beard award a year and a half into it. Which is something I dreamed of, maybe five years from now. But never in a million years thought that would happen so soon. Heather: You don't even know those things are possible. Josh: It's really, really intense. Heather: And, really, our customers are the best compliment we could receive. Josh: Honestly though, those are really big moments, to see people meeting each other, and for people to make friends here, and having regulars that we become friends with. Meeting all the people that we've met. Heather: There's a professor that comes in all the time and sits at the bar, he's been coming in for a year and a half. He takes his students on digs all over the world, and last week he sent us a postcard. Josh: Things like that, those are the biggest things. Heather: This couple that comes in all the time brought me flowers and galoshes yesterday because of all the flooding we've had. That's so nice. And they got my size right. Josh: I think a lot of times those might be more important than the awards, of course we're humbled anytime people think of us. The people that support us everyday make a huge impact.
When asked what's next, the couple explains that they are happy with where their restaurant is going, but perhaps a day off every now and then could be in their future. Those wishing to celebrate the TBL two year anniversary can snag a tickets for tonight's Carbonation Celebration. The six-course dinner is $65 and includes champagne and beer pairings.
· The 18 Essential Charleston Restaurants [-ECHS-]
· Carbonation Celebration [PINGG]