Chef Sarah Simmons opened Small Sugar last week in Columbia, SC. The produce-centered cafe and bakery is a departure for Simmons and her husband, chef Aaron Hoskins, serving just breakfast and lunch. The duo is best known for their Soho fried chicken and champagne bar, Birds & Bubbles, which closed abruptly after back-to-back flooding a year ago.
Manhattan circles were startled by the quick close of Birds & Bubbles, not to mention Simmons exit from the island (four years ago she was named one of New York City’s 50 Best Chefs by Food & Wine), but extensive water damage at the subterranean restaurant signaled to the married chefs that it was time to head home.
Simmons is from Columbia and though Hoskins is not, it felt right to reopen Birds & Bubbles in South Carolina and expand offerings to include pastry, under an umbrella of community-focused sourcing and employment. A cafe in the Vista (formerly Wired Goat) came available and the idea quickly grew legs as a forerunner to Birds & Bubbles opening later in 2019.
The menu at Small Sugar offers flexible plates and though it’s driven by a love of seasonal vegetable (the restaurant’s name is a heirloom pumpkin varietal), it doesn’t consider itself vegetarian. Tartines, bowls, and sandwiches top the menu with produce from two small farms in nearby Sumter, which Hoskins drives to weekly. Nearly every item can be ordered gluten free, dairy free, or vegan, by design.
They hired on personality over experience and are closing in on offering a living wage. Hoskins hopes to add to the local economy from “eggs-to-laundry” and build a team that’s invested in sticking around. He says it’s easier said than implemented, but likes the struggle. “Though a bit over $11/hr can be a living wage in Columbia, closer to $15.50 is what a single parent needs and hours that aren’t traditional.”
A buttered brie danish is squarely flaky, and tartines are ingredient-driven including a soft scrambled egg version astride dressed greens. The crowd ebbs and flows, but fans of Simmons as well as those starved for cafe dining in the Vista neighborhood seem content to wait. Coffee is barista-certified Counter Culture, and there’s matcha lattes and golden milk and multiple dairy-free offerings. This week, bread by the loaf begins in earnest and the potential for private dining downstairs means pop-up dinners are on the horizon.
Small Sugar is located at 709 Gervais St. and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Small Sugar [Official]