foodRestaurant Industry Insights

Thriving Culinary Scene Helps Charleston Restaurant Take First Place

If you haven’t been to Charleston, South Carolina, it may be time to book a ticket or enjoy a fall drive. As a restaurant operator, foodie, or connoisseur, it seems to be the city highlighting all things Epicurean. For this reason and more, it, once again, won Travel + Leisure’s Number One City in the U.S. award, as voted by its readers.

How many times has Charleston received this coveted award? Wait for it. Eleven times…in a row. Wow. Since their culinary scene is one of the commonly mentioned reasons they’ve earned it successively, we thought it time to explore what this region offers and how restaurants are making a mark on travelers and locals alike.

Let’s explore the restaurants making a name for themselves in Charleston.

Regional Food

You can’t read an article regarding the restaurant industry without running into the term “Regional Food.” Even the National Restaurant Association’s 2023 What’s Hot Culinary Trends listed experiences with local culture and community as the top trend, followed closely by comfort fare. And that, in essence, describes the food culture in Charleston. 

Many of the talked-about restaurants in the region focus on Southern cuisine. They give those visiting and the locals an experience—food derived from the city’s heritage. Founded in 1670, it’s the oldest and largest city in South Carolina.

Restaurants Offering Up Local Fare

Okra soup, fried green tomatoes, and crab rice are some of the Southern fare receiving accolades. Specific restaurants include Bertha’s Kitchen, which Stephanie Burt of Condé Nast Traveler describes as “The very definition of comforting soul food.” She also explains that it’s more than Southern food, specifically, Gullah Geechee.

The famous okra soup, fried pork chops, and red rice are, as Burt describes, “Part of the foodways for a group of people descended from the enslaved West Africans who were brought to Charleston to work in the rice fields.” Sharon Coakley, Julia Grant, and Linda Pinckney now own the restaurant started by their mother, Bertha. It seems to attract every type of person and lots of them. 

Three other landmarks and the food they’re known for include Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, which has even made a mail-order business out of their biscuit fame, Dave’s Carry-Out for deviled crabs, and Hannibal’s Soul Kitchen for crab rice. Another Gullah Geechee dish, fried crab rice, combines bacon, celery, onion, bell pepper, white rice, and crab meat. It’s a meal Hannibal’s has been serving since 1985.

A New Kid on the Block

Charleston is made up of more than the iconic local eateries that define its essence. One of the more recent arrivals, Kultura, is a Filipino restaurant opened by Chopped champion Nikko Cagalanan. Kultura opened in July to much fanfare and has been named the Best Filipino restaurant in South Carolina by Food & Wine Magazine. Cagalanan focuses on local fresh ingredients and Filipino food inspired by his childhood in the Philippines. In line with guests’ demand for an experience, the restaurant offers a karaoke brunch complete with Filipino-inspired pastries and tropical cocktails. An experience and authentic food and cooking styles—Chef Nikko has today’s winning combination.  

Another well-known newbie is Sorelle, a combined effort by the Beemok Hospitality Collection and famed chef Michael Mina of Mina Group. The renovated historic townhouses hold a market, bar, and main dining area, inspired by Italy’s all-day cafes and self-defined as Southern Italy meets Southern hospitality. 

Up & Coming Restaurants

With the title of top food and beverage scene in the country, you can imagine many restaurants are finding their way to The Holy City. According to the Holy City Sinner, some of the restaurants and bars opening before year’s end (or later) include Allora, a coastal Italian eatery, Azul Mexicano, and over 100 other up-and-coming establishments. 

That’s a lot of competition. 

So, how do you know when an area has reached its saturation point? Is it defined by a simple equation, like the number of restaurants divided by the population? If that were the case, most restaurants would be opening up in Peoria, Arizona, a town CNBC declared had the fewest number of restaurants per square root of the population back in 2019. 

That’s where Emerging Concepts comes in. It’s tempting to follow the crowds. They, after all, must have researched the community and competitors in the area, right? Unfortunately, while the restaurant industry has made exceptional strides in embracing technology, using the latest advanced analytics to minimize risks and maximize gains when selecting a location is not in everyone’s wheelhouse. 

Data scientists, real estate experts, and entrepreneurs make up our team, a team dedicated to helping our restaurant partners and entertainment concepts successfully expand across the country. We evaluate real estate opportunities and negotiate with developers and landlords, helping our clients take the next step backed by science and strategy. To learn more about our process or to schedule a consultation, contact Emerging Concepts today.    

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