Each week, a new restaurant seems to open Downtown, whereas chef Brannon Florie saw potential in the tucked away Belle Hall Shopping Center. Home to many big name chain establishments, this location was an unlikely address for the boundary pushing farm-to-table place The Granary. Writer Reagan Prozzi talks with Florie about the past two months and the eatery's reception in Mount Pleasant.
[Photo of Florie: Provided]
At almost two months in, what has been the response to The Granary?
We opened December 19, and the response has been great. We have a lot of happy neighbors, they are glad that there is something at this level in the neighborhood. We are something different and new to this area, and we get a lot of responses from folks all over saying, "Thank you so much. It's something that has been missing." We've got happy diners leaving.
We opened during a tough time of the year and are happy that the response has been this big. Word of mouth has been huge for business.
Our lunches are starting to pick up speed. Dinner service has been busy, and we have really focused on getting that right. Folks think our lunch is very sit down, formal, when in fact our menu is written to be quick and fast, but still great dishes. Now that we are settling in with dinner service, we are really gearing towards pushing the lunches.
Where does The Granary name come from?
I am not good at names. Sometimes, that's the hardest part of a restaurant—coming up with the name. I asked one of my bartenders from The Rarebit to help. I knew what I wanted the concept to be and how it should look, I just did not know the name. The guy gave me a few options and I started researching what they meant. I come from a big farming background, and my grandparents were farming families. I was really trying to connect the farm to the concept without being typical or generic. I heard Granary, for grain house, and I thought it really fit the concept.
Tell us about the creation of The Granary.
I love this location. I love it over here in Belle Hall [Shopping Center]. I did not realize, until we started working on this place, how centrally located it was. I've lived in Mount Pleasant for eight years and did not realize how accessible this area is to all the parts of Charleston. North Charleston, Daniel Island, Isle of Palms—I am getting people from all over—Downtown, everywhere.
We interviewed for three months and hand-selected each person for this project. Many of the kitchen guys have been with me for years, so that part was easy. Allen [Lewis Goss], my manager, would say in the interviews, "We want downtown people to come to us." I never thought of it that way, but when people come in here you realize, there's a lot of good places to eat downtown, and they are choosing us. The fact that downtown people are making their way here to is pretty awesome.
I am happy to be here. Cameron Young from Tristan is running the server program. My staff is awesome, and I could not do it without the incredible staff. I get just as many compliments about the staff as I do about the food. It's pretty great.
What does The Granary signature dish look like?
When I started this concept, I was really able to make a dream of mine happen. I did a charcuterie tour of New Orleans several years ago; I had the opportunity to go into some of the best restaurants to talk with their chefs, taste their boards, and sit through all kinds of seminars. Lots of them had charcuterie in the dining room, and ever since that trip I've really been into it, but haven't had the right concept to really showcase the items. At 17 North it was catching on, but it wasn't the main focus. The crowd there was looking for the sausages and smoked meats, but not quite on this level. I would say that's really our signature thing. That's what I wanted to focus on when I built this menu—veggies and charcuterie—the best of both worlds.
How do you sit down and write a menu? Tell us about how The Granary menu evolved.
Joe Wolfson, my chef de cuisine and I worked on writing the menu together. We had to think about our location and how it is different from the downtown scene. When we were writing the menu, and I said, "I want to do crazy stuff." When we got closer and closer to completion, and after we talked to neighbors, we knew we need to play it on the safe side. We wanted people to get to know the menu, to try us, to like our food, and after that, we would have the opportunity to sneak in some more adventurous items. Some things we've already moved to the menu, like sweetbreads and corned beef tongue. Those were our starting points and we wanted to see how far we could push the envelope. Those sweetbreads have been really popular and selling really well. Slowly, I will add more and more items that are out of the comfort zone for a lot of people.
I think the charcuterie board give us the opportunity to do cool stuff. We've found that that people are willing to eat smoked and cured meats, you can slide some more unusual items in. On the menu now is lardo and guanciale. They are eating it up.
I think that the Mount Pleasant crowd is adventures. I think Charleston as a whole is turning people's eyes the other way. People are getting it, and they are trying stuff. I think Mount Pleasant was missing good quality food and a different scene. People are loving having a local place, not so corporate, and they are happy to have the opportunity to try small plates they maybe haven't before. I would say, especially on the weekends about 75 percent of our tables start with the charcuterie board—which is awesome. Of course we are able to do the things we want to do, because it's chef's choice. They get five meats—pátê, terrines etc.—and someone, at the table, is going to love at least one thing on there. It's awesome. I love this place.
What's to come for The Granary?
There is a lot to come. We are adding 50 extra seats on the patio. We are pushing the limits, on the weekends, seating close to 200 people and an average of 70 during dinner service. The extra patio seats will be a new game. I am a huge patio fan. When I lived in Texas, I was introduced to the patio world and there it is a must-have. When I came back here that is one thing I wanted to do was have a place with a patio.
I am excited to see how this changes the game. I come from a high volume background, but you can only have so many people in the kitchen especially this size. It will be a wonderful challenge and I am glad to see what it brings.
We've added happy hour. I think folks are definitely catching on. They are calling their friends, "Hey, I'm at The Granary having a Moscow Mule, y'all come join."
What gives you your greatest satisfaction as a chef?
Empty plates. I just had a conversation with my chef de cuisine the other day about this. I look at a restaurant as a whole. I look at the business side of a restaurant: food costs, beer costs, liquor, labor, and all the financials. When I am in the kitchen, I am looking down the line, watching the server grab the plate, the dishwasher load the plate, the guy put dishes away, the fry guy dropping something in the fryer, you know, I'm watching the whole operation. I have to make sure it works. I love this open kitchen—it has been a long time since I had one. I have the joy of watching people's reaction when the food goes down. That's my favorite part about this place, getting to see happy diners and their response is so cool.
What lesson can you share?
There are so many young guys in this industry that cook the food and put it the window and think their job is done. I try to teach the young chefs I work with to think further than that. You're not truly done until that plate comes back empty—that's my philosophy. When you put the plate in the window, you cannot just turn and walk away. You have to make sure it's wiped in the window, that the server is handling it properly, and that it goes down in front of the diner as it should. After it is in front of the diner, it's out of your hands, but you can't stop thinking about that plate. I do not stop thinking about that plate until I see the plates come back. You can ask any server who has worked for me, that if I am by a trashcan and plates are coming back with food not eaten, I am saying to them, "was something wrong" and their response is always, "No Chef, they were just full," "They didn't want to take it home?" [Laughs.] I am truly concerned about the end product. Empty plates are huge.
My chef friends come in and they know this. I had one come in the other day they were at the community table and I was at the other end. Every time they got a course, he would hold up the clean plate, "Chef, all good."
Written and reported by Reagan Prozzi