Saint Alban co-owner Brooks Reitz (left) with chef Ari Kolender, who will split time between Saint Alban and Leon's Oyster Shop down the street. Jonathan Corey will be the sous chef
In terms of ecclesiastical history, Saint Drogo
typically gets the nod as the patron saint of coffeehouses. While the 12th-century deformed Flemish hermit was never documented as being a coffee drinker, he was allegedly bilocate (meaning able to be in two places at once) and therefore seen as a multi-tasker. Perhaps that's why he's the protector of the highly caffeinated.
But Charleston might now have a runner up in the sanctified coffee-keeper category: Saint Alban
, Brooks Reitz and Tim Mink's new beautifully styled coffee shop at 710 King St. (Can a new saint usurp an old one? Someone get Francis on the line to confirm.) At the very least, we're predicting a canonization of Saint Alban as the new patron saint of downtown morning commuters once it opens — pending inspections — late next week.
We caught up with Reitz to find out more details.
: Why did you pick the name Saint Alban? Any connection to Saint Alban the 4th-century martyr who was beheaded for sheltering a priest? Or, rather, is there any connection to St. Alban, Vt., the site of St. Albans Raid that was the northernmost land action of the American Civil War?
It’s actually not a reference to the British martyr at all, but instead is a reference to a text called The Book of Saint Albans
, which is (Wikipedia says it best): a compilation of matters relating to the interests of the time of a gentleman.
While the original text was specifically covering “hawking, hunting, and heraldry,” we are more focused on “eating, drinking, and making merry."
I believe I read that you've designed the space for quick flow so that folks can grab a coffee and go. Is that right? How does that work?
Not specifically for flow only, but in designing a coffee shop (which I’d never done), we visited a ton of shops from New York City to Chicago to San Fran. Some smaller indie shops get flow all wrong. There is nowhere to stand, to wait, to order. It becomes confusing and uncomfortable. So we spent a lot of time thinking about how customers would move through the space in the morning, when we will mostly function as a coffee shop. Hopefully, we got it right. But to describe is to say that when guests enter they are drawn into the space at the corner of the bar, where many of our food options will be displayed. To the left of that is the cashier, where they will order. Far at the end of the bar (uninterrupted by stools) is the area to pick up the coffee, then the area to “doctor it up,” if you will, and beyond that is a back exit to the parking lot. In and out in one long flow.
There was talk of serving sherry in the evenings along with other bites. Is that still part of the plan? Will you have other alcoholic beverages?
Yes, sherry will be a piece of our beverage offerings. Of course there isn’t huge demand for sherry, but we are trying to create a little bit. But all of our eggs are not in that basket. We will also have a small but lovingly curated wine list (including by the glass and bottle options), beers, and some cocktails made from vermouths, madeira, and other fortified wine products.
: By my count, we now have eight independent coffee shops with the opening of Saint Alban. Why do we need this new addition and how will you compete with places like The Daily
just a few blocks up?
: You’re right. However, as a resident of North Central, and former resident of Wagener Terrace, we didn’t have a coffee shop serving that part of the community where a lot of young professionals and F&B professionals live. They pass Saint Alban every day on the way to work (or coffee) and we felt strongly that there was a need in this part of the community. I’m biking/walking minded and feel strongly that a great neighborhood or community can be serviced by these types of places.
There is also the nighttime element, that to my knowledge no other shop has. We will be serving food and drink late into the evening, and operating more like a traditional restaurant after 5 p.m.
To that end, we will also have a very large food offering, some of which is cooked to order (and a proper kitchen, albeit small), so we will differentiate ourselves in that way.
There is the coffee, as well. We will be the only cafe environment serving La Colombe
, a roaster that I love from Philadelphia.
There is the element of design, by which I mean we will simply look and feel different than the other shops. Tim and I have a particular look and feel that we are going for, and I think it makes for an attractive, comfortable place to spend time.
Finally, because you mention The Daily specifically, I think we have very different business models. They are a “grab and go” type place, and have designed the space and offerings to support that. While you can certainly “grab and go” at Saint Alban (which we hope many will), you can also take advantage of two rooms of seating and a larger menu that encourages lingering.
: Now that you'll have two restaurants open within a block of each other, do you have any plans for continued development up King?
: We have a couple of more concepts in mind, and too much talent among our staff to not give them opportunities to grow. We do have one more project specifically in that area of King that we are working on, but its not at the point yet where it’s worth talking about.
: Oh, and of course the most pressing question for freelance squatters — will you have free wifi?
: Yes! We will offer free wifi at Saint Alban, but ask that it is contained to our back room — a sunny, well lit, comfortable space. We are trying to keep our front room more a place to gather, chat, and connect with the community.
Note: Pope Francis declined to comment for this story.