A number of reasons could be blamed for its lack of popularity. Executive Chef Frank McMahon, who oversees Hank's and won the chef of the year award at last week's wine and food festival, thinks the space and food lacked broad appeal. "A family of five comes by," he says, "and one person doesn't want pasta, and they move on."
McMahon jumped at the chance to capitalize on his classic training in French cuisine and open a French brasserie. "We had talked about it a long time," says McMahon, "and the opportunity presented itself, so we went for it."
But first they had to practically gut the space in order to repair the water damage. The HVAC unit and ductwork had to be replaced, and the second-floor kitchen had to be reconfigured and rebuilt. This week, DHEC will be inspecting the progress and McMahon expects Brasserie Gigi to open on April 2.
The menu promises to be classic, casual French fare: steak frites, mussels, a good burger, vichyssoise, onion soup.
"We're not reinventing the wheel here," says McMahon. "It's all recognizable French stuff, but on the Market, we have a broad range of people that we're appealing to."
He thinks the atmosphere — lively, casual — and the classic fare will attract a big audience and keep the place full for lunch and dinner.
As for the name, Brasserie Gigi is named for McMahon's wife, much to her dismay.
"I was at home one Sunday night and came up with a few names. I was half in the bag, you know I'd had a few, and I sent it out as a joke [to Hank]. A text comes back — done! I said, for fuck's sake, are you serious? And I tell Gigi and her mouth drops open. But it's a great name. It's French, very clean and simple. Regardless of it being her name, it works, you know."
The interior of Brasserie Gigi, designed by local Amelia Handegan, is being outfitted with a large zinc bar, tile flooring, leather banquettes, wooden tables, and brasserie chairs with custom lighting.
McMahon will oversee both Hank's and Gigi's.
When Mercato had to close because of a seeping water problem, restaurateur Hank Holliday, ever the smart capitalist, looked at it as an opportunity to reinvent the restaurant space. The Italian restaurant did fine, but it was never a homerun like Peninsula Grill and Hank's Seafood Restaurant.