Should Charleston restaurants stay open during severe storms?

Whether to weather the weather

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Unlike Columbia, where restaurants (and, of course, residents) are dealing with a boil water advisory and continued flooding from the storm, Charleston F&Bers are back in business. And thankfully, the restaurant damage has been minimal, with few restaurants reporting any flooding issues.

Lee Lee's Hot Kitchen suffered flooding through the entire restaurant Sunday morning, but owner Karalee Nielsen Fallart says the staff was able to get it cleaned up quickly and opened for lunch that day. Meanwhile, many restaurants, including most in the Market area, avoided water with sandbags. 

But perhaps the biggest issue facing restaurants regarding this past weekend's storm was whether or not to open. Opinions on the subject were varied and vocal, particularly on Facebook's 5,000-plus member group Chucktown F&B Collective page. There servers, kitchen staff, and owners sounded off on the safety and suitability of calling in employees during an OpCon 1 storm

One person who chimed in was The Obstinate Daughter's Chef de Cuisine William Fincher. He says the restaurant stayed open and had a great weekend. "It was great to be able to give some sort of normalcy to the surrounding area," he says. While he estimates Obstinate Daughter did about half the business they would have on a regular weekend — 220-280 guests — it was pretty good considering the severity of the storm.

"It was also great that my cooks just showed up, didn't even ask if we would be open," adds Fincher. "It's a huge testament to their work ethic. We're the people that show up when the sky is falling. If we can get to work, we will."

For business partners Mike Lata and Adam Nemirow, they tried to consolidate staff from both of their restaurants, FIG and The Ordinary, to open FIG Saturday night. "Even if we had to have an abbreviated menu, we’d have a hurricane party and get people fed," says Lata. That was the plan anyhow. Instead, when neither restaurant could staff up enough people for FIG, and employees voiced their concerns about safety and riding out the storm with family and pets, Lata says they pulled the plug at the 11th hour and kept the doors closed. Lata adds that while the decision was a financial hit for the restaurant, his employees' safety was his No. 1 concern. 

At Proof, owner Craig Nelson had the same thought — close up shop. His employees had other ideas. At 3:30 p.m. last Saturday he sent CP the following email: "I told the staff to stay home. They wanted to open. We are here and safe. Open by 6."

On Saturday, we did our best to track peninsular restaurant openings throughout the day on our Cuisine blog. By the end of the day, we counted 21 open restaurants. That night, when rain raged yet again, CP Scene writer Chandler Thomas headed out for a water-logged pub crawl. He made it to The Silver Dollar, where the staff were mopping up backdoor flood waters before DJ Kevbo hit the stage. From there he hit up Republic Garden & Lounge and Charleston Beer Works — proof that no amount of weather can keep that sarcastic social butterfly down. 

But the question remains, should these restaurants have been open when the Charleston Police Department was asking people to remain at home? Comment below or take our poll.


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