Folly Beach is changing fast; it's the nature of a barrier island. At the same time, some things stay the same. And although Chico Feo is a new addition to the island's culinary/bar/hangout scene, its vibe is that of a bygone era on the beach when locals ruled and everybody knew your name.
Owner Hank Weed opened the Second Street and East Ashley Avenue spot last July as a taco luncheon counter, similar in vein to the Lunch Hook, a sandwich joint sporadically run out of the location in years prior. With meat from Ernie Murray's Superior Cuts Butcher Shop and daily fresh catches, Weed began churning out two daily taco options, from bonnethead shark to pork to mahi-mahi, served in trios for $8.
By August, with beer and wine permit in hand, he went to work building a cozy outdoor bar, complete with TV (when weather allows), ample picnic table seating, and a tiny stage on the back porch of the property's adjoining cabin. Drink options are simple — PBR is $2, Mexican beers are $4, and Bell's Two Hearted Ale and a local brew (Westbrook's One Claw, most recently) clock in at $5.
Weed's had plenty of time and experience to shape his dream hangout. After 12 years living in the Caribbean, the Detroit-native sailed up from Trinidad to settle in Charleston. For three-and-a-half years, he ran Queen Street Grocery, transforming the corner shop into a go-to hangout known for crepes (the type he learned to savor during his time in Martinique). But when his relationship with his former fiancée soured — he blames trying to run a business together — he sold the grocery and returned to the tropics.
Fortunately, the opportunity on Folly pulled him back last summer (along with his coffee company, Weed's Cold-Pressed).
"When this place came up, I thought I could represent and kind of replicate their easy-going nature right here," says Weed, referencing the open-air bars he frequented in the Caribbean. Like a beachfront bodega, Chico Feo (Spanish for "the ugly boy") naturally conveys a welcoming atmosphere. There's no front door; you wander into the cozy courtyard off the street outside Bert's Market, doubling down on that corner's status as the cultural center and meeting place of Folly Beach (apart from, perhaps, the post office).
"It's the whole community idea," Weed expresses. "I felt like that wasn't really going on — a place that really caters to locals."
Weed's succeeded, from being able to grab an affordable but filling lunch at the walk-up window to fulfilling the same need late at night (he keeps the kitchen open as long as patrons are there). Everything is flexible, including the inevitable closing each time it rains (or polar vortexes set in). Because Weed lives in the apartment above the kitchen, he's literally on call for hungry and thirsty folks that wander by.
Fortunately, recent months have brought an expansion of the menu from the simple taco options Chico Feo began with. Regular menu items now include a curried goat bowl, a heaping portion of rice and beans, and the all-around winner: a ramen noodle concoction dubbed the Wu-Tang Bowl. Chock full of flank steak, sprouts, jalapeños, scallions, noodles, a soft-boiled egg, and "Ghostface" peppers, all floating together in a rich pork broth, it's a welcome winter meal.
Accompanied by the Wednesday night open mic or live bands on Saturday afternoons, Chico Feo provides far more than a satisfied belly and a place to relax — it's a reason to be optimistic about the cultural future of Folly Beach.