Rule number one: the wood-burning oven will not be cooking pizza. Flatbreads, yes. Pizza, no. The (not-a-pizza) oven will be the centerpiece of Kevin Johnson’s new kitchen at the Grocery, but he plans to roast mostly vegetables in the thing along with entire chickens and whole fish, letting customers opt for a familial eating atmosphere.
Johnson is a former executive chef of Anson. He also worked for a time as corporate chef for REV foods (Monza, Closed for Business), but at the beginning of the year, he broke off to open his own restaurant. With the help of architect David Thompson, he searched for the right location for a long time. If you look closely at the squat building on the corner of St. Philip and Cannon, you’ll see Thompson’s compass logo. They seriously considered that space, but it just wasn’t right. As they were trying to imagine transforming that building into a restaurant, they heard about Altman Furniture on Upper King Street. The massive 8,000-square-foot storefront has sat vacant for a long time, and the owners were considering subdividing the cavernous interior. They checked it out, and eventually settled on the back half of the space, which opens onto Cannon Street.
Johnson says it offers a couple of unique opportunities. First, it’s oriented sideways. Instead of walking into the typical straight and narrow space, as many restaurants on the historic street are situated, at the Grocery, you’ll come into a wide space that elegantly flows around and leads to an open-air kitchen. The second reason for choosing the side space was practical. The hood systems can be piped right out the building without having to go through adjacent businesses.
The concept at the Grocery is a changing menu dictated by ingredients available each day with a heavy focus on vegetables, seafood, and pork. Johnson will make charcuterie and pickles in-house, and craft beers will be on tap. Despite the recent opening of the Macintosh and Two Boroughs Larder, which have similar concepts, Johnson says the Grocery is something he’s believed in for a long time. “It’s enough to worry about your own vision,” he says, adding that he’s confident he’ll have something unique to offer the restaurant scene in Charleston.
The Grocery is located on Cannon Street, a few steps off Upper King, and will hopefully be open in December.