Ben Berryhill is expanding his empire, branching out to the right about 50 yards. Berryhill, his wife Marianna, and Red Drum partner Charlie Chance will be opening a new restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Samos that will be called "Next Door" (though, technically, as Berryhill points out, it's two doors down from Red Drum).
Berryhill says that he's been looking to do something new for quite a while and explored several options, including opening a restaurant downtown. But he was worried about getting too far from Red Drum. Berryhill is a very hands-on chef and admits, "I'm still in the kitchen nonstop."
Pondering a downtown move gave him "nightmare visions" of burning up the road back and forth across the Ravenel Bridge. So when George Malanos approached him with an offer for the old Samos space, it seemed like the perfect solution.
The timing was right, too, since Berryhill felt he had finally assembled a kitchen team that could keep Red Drum humming along while working together to create a second restaurant.
This team includes Chris Berens, who was the first to be able to step up and manage Red Drum's big wood-burning grill. "It's a beast," Berryhill says, "especially in the summer." It takes a talented cook to keep the split logs burning while controlling the hot spots and moving around almost every piece of fish or meat that goes onto an entrée plate. For the first few years, Berryhill worked the grill himself night in and night out, but now Berens has stepped in and taken the lead.
He's joined by Kyle Christie, a veteran of the Wolfgang Puck group, and Nathan Hood, who got his start at Red Drum and has come back to Charleston after studying at the Culinary Institute of America and working a stint at the highly regarded Quince in San Francisco's Financial District.
As for what to expect from the food next door, Berryhill says the new place will have a smaller menu and a more chef-driven, creative style of cooking.
Red Drum's South by Southwest motif created a distinctive and inventive culinary offering, but at the same time Berryhill and team have felt a little hemmed in by the parameters they set for themselves, like having to figure out how to incorporate chile or lime or jalapeños into everything new.
At Next Door, Berryhill will draw on his background growing up in the Sabine River bottom near the Texas-Louisiana border, including the French Creole cooking he experienced there and during his early years working in New Orleans. He'll also tap Hood's experience in the San Francisco scene and Christie's with Wolfgang Puck. But most of all, the plan is to keep it small so they can source the best ingredients and keep the menu interesting and always changing.
The new venture has the two kitchens' competitive juices flowing, with the Next Door crew aspiring to dethrone Red Drum as the top dining spot in Mt. Pleasant and the Red Drum guys just as determined to step it up and edge out their upstart sibling.
Berryhill says they're about three to four weeks out from opening.