Mistakes are what got Brannon Florie where he is today. And he's OK with that. For the last 20 years, he's worked hard in the restaurant business. So hard that he had a heart attack in 2012 at the age of 34. It was a life-altering event that he thinks resulted from one of the biggest mistakes he's ever made — putting on a beer festival. Or maybe, we should say, panicking and selling tickets with Groupon was his biggest mistake. At the time, Florie was busting his ass as the chef at 17 North Roadside Kitchen, working 100-plus hours a week, watching the ownership run the place into the ground, and planning an epic Lowcountry Beer Festival for 500 lucky attendees.
A week or so before the event, Florie started to panic. "I had a permit for 500 people, and we had sold 10 tickets," he remembers. "All my friends, people who had put on events before, were like it's cool. It'll sell. But I had 10 to 12 grand invested in it, and I got scared and panicked and called Groupon and Living Social."
And then he sold 2,000 tickets.
He scrambled to have it removed from the sites before it got to that point, but they kept on selling tickets. So he decided to do the right thing. He contacted Mt. Pleasant and told them he made a mistake and would need a permit for a bigger event. They told him to shut it down, but he convinced the town he would do what needed to be done. He hired five off-duty cops, set up shuttles, jumped through all the hoops that stood in his way. "I did not sleep for three days trying to appease Mt. Pleasant," he says. "It was the most stress ever. By the day it came, I didn't get to plan it for 2,000 people. I was just a wreck."
He ended up getting crushed by the crowds of people. "Let's just say, the first 1,000 people had a blast, but the last 500 didn't. There was no food, an empty cooler," he says. "I went out to a barbecue place and bought barbecue just to have some food."
The next day, at the bank drive-through, he seriously thought he was having a heart attack. He called his wife, and told her, but she assured him he was probably fine. He went to work. And then he started googling his symptoms. "I told my staff, I think I'm having a heart attack, and they're like — what the fuck? Go to the hospital! — but it took me like an hour to, you know, decide I'm gonna go."
Once there, they gave him an EKG and confirmed, yep, he was definitely having a heart attack. They sent him to the hospital cardiac unit downtown. "I'm in the ambulance and my wife is behind us and I can see my daughter in the car," he says. "I'm all hooked up to IVs, and my daughter is six months old. I'm like, what the fuck? I can't not see my daughter again. I had another heart attack in the room as well. It was an eye-opener for sure."
It wasn't long after the heart attack that Florie left 17 North, even though he didn't want to. "I was trying to buy the place," he says. "I put my life into it. I met my wife while I was there. I had my kid while there. I put everything into it. I was the first one there and the last one to leave for a couple of years."
But his offer — a good one, he says — was turned down by the owners, who eventually had to shutter the restaurant once Florie departed and took his good name and food with him last October.
"The outcome that was destined to happen, happened," he says.
From there, he consulted with John Adamson on the Rarebit and began work on a new restaurant in Mt. Pleasant called Falyn's On Forty-One. It's still not open, and he's been struggling with permitting and other red tape ever since. He got so discouraged about six months ago that he seriously considered changing careers.
But Florie belongs in the F&B business. He started working in restaurants as a teenager. He was one of those King Street kids who hung out and spent his time downtown working and partying. After a while, he moved away, worked as a corporate chef for eight years, accumulating experience on the business of running a kitchen. He came back and watched guys like Indigo Road's Steve Palmer (Oak Steakhouse, The Macintosh), who he worked with for a while at 17 North, do good things, and he also watched other restaurant owners make stupid mistakes.
"Most things I learned, everything about the business, I learned from mistakes and seeing people fail and learning those life lessons," he says.
One lesson he might not quite have learned yet is how not to work too hard. In addition to working on the restaurant on Hwy. 41 in Mt. Pleasant, Florie just closed a deal to open The Granary in Belle Hall Shopping Center on Long Point Road in Mt. Pleasant in the old Hubee D's location.
Luckily, he's got a chef lined up to run the day-to-day operations of the kitchen. Joe Wolfson just moved down from Connecticut a few weeks ago, and — through a mutual contact that they both worked with in the restaurant world — Florie realized he was the perfect match for him. "She said he's a fucking badass, but he's young and needs guidance," says Florie. "So he came down and cooked for me and we hung out and ate everywhere in town and talked about food, and I fell in love with his attitude and his willingness to learn."
Before his stint in Connecticut, Wolfson got some attention as the chef at Ham and High in Montgomery, Ala. where Food & Wine nominated him for the People's Best New Chef contest in 2011.
Florie and Wolfson have a shared sensibility when it comes to food, and the Granary will reflect that. It will be a farm-to-table restaurant with food similar to what Florie was doing at 17 North — but at a much better price point. Expect a lot of small plates, charcuterie, cheese boards, composed salads, soups, and very few entrées — five or six at the most with shared sides. They'll open for lunch with sandwiches, burgers, and flatbreads. Florie isn't much for sentimentality or artistic flourishes when it comes to food. He wants to cook good food that people want to come and eat. And he wants to have a successful business so he can support his family and take some time to be with them.
Although taking it easy isn't really in his vocabulary. Last weekend, Florie catered a wedding for 150, hosted a dinner with Sean Park at Kanpai, and was working on his new restaurants. "I don't know when to stop," he admits. "I got to keep moving. I have an octopus tattoo because that's me, my hands are always into something."
And his hands have proven adept at making shit work for other people. It's exciting for Florie to get a chance to make it work for himself this time around.
"This is a fresh start for me," he says with a bit of relief. "My first real fresh start."