In a world where "fast casual" applies to not just our restaurants but also our lifestyles, there's something quite faith-restoring about seeing a fully functioning circa-1847 mill grinding down corn kernels for grits to be used in Instagrammable dishes to be served to savvy diners on King St.
In new retro darling Millers All Day, this 172-year-old heirloom mill (located in the front window for curious passersby to ogle) makes grits within 100 feet of the kitchen, where they'll be transformed by executive chef Madison Tessener into shrimp and grits, or maybe the grit bowl of the day.
Greg Johnsman, co-owner of Millers, a miller himself, and a champion of Southern food ways, has been churning out real deal grits, grains, and cornmeal at his Edisto Island-based Geechie Boy Mill for years. And, sure, the average diner will probably visit the breakfast all day spot because of its location, "breakfast martinis," vintage all-pink bathroom, or fried chicken biscuit, but for Johnsman, there's more to it than that.
Starting Fri. June 8, with an inaugural demo held Tues. June 5 at 10 a.m., the miller will host milling demonstrations twice a week — Tuesdays and Fridays between lunch and happy hour at 3 p.m. — cranking up the 19th century mill and the separator which was built some time between 1909 and 1915 in Columbia, S.C.
"The idea was to have this education in a historic area of Charleston," says Johnsman. "Part of the [restaurant] partnership for me was this. I'm not a chef — I want diners to see the first steps taken in the process."
In addition to the heirloom machinery, Johnsman says there's a magazine article from 1915 about the separator, posted on the glass, as well as a framed envelope mailed (a long, long time ago) from two blocks down that contained a letter inquiring about milling equipment to be delivered from the same company as the Millers All Day machine.
Johnsman says it is difficult for people to imagine what his job of milling actually looks like, day to day. He says he hopes that as people wander lower King learning about the Holy City's history, they'll make a stop by Millers as part of their unofficial tour (tours taste better with breakfast martinis, we can attest), seeing, probably for the first time, the basis of their beloved shrimp and grits.
"One day [Tessener] came to me and said 'I'm out of grits!' and I said 'I'll be right back.' Ten minutes later I came back with what she needed. This is a viable piece that does more than people expect it to."
Follow Millers All Day on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to do date with demo times — Johnsman may add more sessions depending on demand.