Stars, it turns out, don't translate to dollars.
"It was a dream for us," says owner Joseph Jacobson. "We opened the doors with zero and we closed the doors with … whatever is less than zero."
Jacobson and wife Allison's West Ashley barbecue spot is officially closed. They posted a sign on the door at the end of December reading, "Black Wood is closed. We will keep you updated via our Facebook page. Happy New Year and thank you for your support."
[content-3] So what happened between their official opening in July 2017 and their December demise? There are a lot of variables, Jacobson admits, that dictate the success of a new restaurant, even for experienced industry folks. And the beginnings of Black Wood were less than smooth.
The South Windermere restaurant transitioned from Med Eatery to Wild Hare Smokehouse in early winter 2017. At the time, Jacobson teamed up with owners Aris Newton and Tommy Eiserhardt to open the barbecue spot. But, as Jacobson then told us, a week after opening, the owners closed up shop. [content-2]
The veteran chef and James Island native took over the space, and within a few months he was back in business with his own barbecue biz, Black Wood Smokehouse. In her 2018 review, critic Vanessa Wolf writes that despite the ostensibly drab location and saturation of 'cue spots in the Holy City, Black Wood brought the heat, and held their own: "Although it may seem that the last thing Charleston needs is another barbecue joint, along comes Black Wood Smokehouse to render that idea pure hogwash."
Jacobson says that knowing their lease was coming up in March, they had to make a decision. "It wasn't any easy decision by any means," he says. "If Allison and I were wealthy, if we hadn't gone through every dollar, then we would've had the staying power." The couple opened and operated their restaurant daily while simultaneously raising a young child, and Jacobson notes, soon after giving birth four years ago, Allison got news that would lead to a kidney transplant just a few months ago.
"Throughout the entire existence of Black Wood we knew what our obstacles were," says Jacobson. "We wanted to give it a shot. Thank God we had great customers and repeat business … I just don't think we had the pocketbook to get the word out like we needed."
Jacobson says the only reason they had a legit website was because Allison knew how to make one. There were no dollars for PR or marketing or splashy ads. And while Jacobson is a longtime Charleston chef, his barbecue name recognition isn't the same as say, Melvin's or Rodney's or Lewis. Martin's Bar-B-Que joint is about five minutes down the road, with outposts in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and S.C. Their website has a slow-mo video component of whole hogs cooking over an open flame.
"We have 2,000 likes on Facebook, which took us every bit of the time we were open to gain," says Jacobson. Was it the lack of social media love, the food, the service, the location, or the price point? "It's not like we live in a place where good food is hard to find," says Jacobson. "It's hard to stand out right now and if you don't have the money to provide staying power … in the long run it's a crap shoot."
Now, Jacobson says he and his family are going to take some time to regroup, gather their thoughts, let Allison's health improve. "We're going to live a more simple life," says Jacobson. "For the meantime we're down, but we're not out."