Yesterday at about 3:30 p.m., Hominy Grill chef and owner Robert Stehling stood in the middle of a bustling construction site and grinned wide as he assured his wife that they would indeed be opening on Thursday. He said this despite it being 3:30 p.m. and no fire marshal had shown up for a final, necessary inspection and despite the painters painting, the workers working, and the restaurant being engulfed in general chaos.
Stehling first drew up plans for an addition in April with the help of Gibson Guess Architects. After months of construction, he closed the restaurant last Monday for the final push. Getting it open as fast as possible is a numbers game. Every day he's closed, he's losing thousands of dollars (hear that, Mr. Fire Inspector?).
Hominy Grill has always been a tight little restaurant with a door that opened directly into the dining room — no foyer, no hostess stand. As Stehling puts it, everything got done in that one room — drinks made, bills paid, etc. They had the outdoor patio, which in Charleston was usable for a good portion of the year, but there was still only one bathroom and a somewhat inelegant operation of how business got done.
He aimed to solve some of those problems with this addition. He also aimed to get his waiting patrons off the sidewalk out front. With the new building, the entrance has been moved to the left, where a much smaller patio offers a shaded waiting area with a little takeout window for ordering drinks and to-go food. Stehling says you could ostensibly walk up to the window in the morning and get a biscuit and a coffee and get on your way.
Artist David Boatwright was putting final touches on a mural of a chicken crowing "Wet your beak at Hominy Grill." Inside, a new foyer with a hostess stand will greet diners. They are still waiting on a tiled Hominy Grill logo to arrive. He'll put down a piece of plywood in the meantime.
To the left of the foyer is a new dining room, which perfectly reflects the vibe of Hominy with white beadboard walls, tin ceilings, and hardwood floors. They've built a few booths in there with stained glass from Bob Hines' studio. Along the wall that faces the patio are four sets of French doors that can be opened during nice days.
That room also holds not one but two bathrooms, a feature Stehling seems most excited about. The single bathroom in the old dining room has been ripped out and transformed into a cute, little bar, the one with a takeout window. Stehling isn't quite sure what time he'll bring in a bartender, since he could have a need for someone to serve up coffee drinks in the morning.
They've got a full liquor license, so they've been working on some fun cocktails like a Cheerwine Negroni and a Tequila Sundrop. For now, the food menu hasn't changed much, but Stehling has a larger hood system in the kitchen, which will allow him to offer different items. But today he's focused on getting the restaurant open. If only that inspector would show up.
As of 10 p.m. last night, Stehling was still optimistic about opening by lunch on Thursday. In an email with the subject line "Waiting for Inspector-Godot," he said: "Our fire marshal seems to have gotten confused. I'm having staff stand by for a lunch opening tomorrow, as soon as we get fire inspection and then C of O we will open. Maybe I'm a fool and permitting will take the rest of the week!"
Guess only time will tell. Today could be the day. If it is, you should stop by and check out the finished (minus the long punch list) product and get yourself a Southern veggie plate for lunch. You can be sure, Stehling will be very glad to see you.