Redoing a restaurant is no small feat, even if you've done 30 or so odd projects in your life, even if you've been working in restaurants since you were 12. Local restaurateur Peter Woodman knows that Charleston foodies have been eyeing his new project, Mill Street Tavern, for some time. But to give the people what they want, Woodman had to travel to his homeland, more than once.
"I took on the building three years ago, it was in bad condition. But I've been looking for a certain type of space for 10 to 15 years... It wasn't that it needed a lot of work, it needed all
work," stresses Woodman. The heart wants what the heart wants, and Woodman was determined to see this thing through, knowing that with the neighboring veteran Shem Creek Bar & Grill cranking out business, there was an audience he could tap into.
Woodman knew he wanted Mill Street Tavern (504 Mill St.) to look rustic, like a history-laden beach shack that would fit in on the beloved creek. He also knew he didn't want to make new material look old. He wanted the real-deal stuff.
"Two years ago I was back in Ireland at this local pub — think of the smallest pub in Charleston, and divide it in half. My brother and I were having a few beers, and this old timer rolls in, starts dropping the F bomb. It's Christmas Eve and my wife is coming soon and I said 'hey buddy, what's wrong, what's your problem, you need to relax."
Apparently the old timer had something weighing him down — quite literally. "We have a few more beers, he takes me outside, shows me this 1980s car on its side from the weight of this slate, these 4-inch pieces of slate from my hometown." Turns out the slate-holder needed to sell, and Woodman wanted to buy.
"Honest to God don't know if it was divine intervention or the beer, but I told the guy I'd give him two thousand Euros and I'd buy his beer the rest of the night." That slate now makes up part of the Mill Street floor. Woodman saved about $35,000 on the project — and got a heckuva story out of it.
There's also the 100+ year old wood, also now part of the Mill Street floor, that Woodman discovered this February in Ireland, sourced from another old timer. "He showed me this old dilapidated mill and I went inside and bought everything for pennies on the dollar. [The wood] had no screws, no glue, everything is dove tail. There was no one locally who could work on it, so I brought over Irish carpenters to come show them how."
In addition to sourcing vintage materials from all over the world (the wrought iron comes from Egypt) Woodman, like all restaurant owners, had to go through the endless permitting process, not to mention the anxiety of pouring your life into one big time and money pit.
"I’ve stood there with my head in my hands, thinking 'will I ever get this place open?'"
Working to open two restaurants in Mt. Pleasant, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, sounds masochistic — he recently opened Woodward Tavern in the old Calder's Pub near his other local restaurant, Crave — but Woodman considers the influx of people a potential boon.
"We're at this crossroads. Mt. Pleasant is a place that could go both ways — it could become like Myrtle Beach, or it could be contained with steady growth," he says.
Beyond the cookie cutter shopping centers and new builds cropping up, there remains, for now, Shem Creek, a bastion of old-school beach charm. To Woodman, that remains the main "it" factor.
"My second week in Mt. Pleasant, I was at Red's and I saw this dolphin break the water, I was making this weird noise, I was so excited people were like 'they do that all the time,'" laughs Woodman. "Seeing that really pushed me towards this location, with this deck overlooking Shem Creek, it's absolutely gorgeous, the sun sets and splashes in the windows with all the tones of the old wood warming up with the sun."
The floors are laid (check out that slate!) and the cutlery is waiting for its next visitor, but because he likes to take things nice and slow, the Mill Street doors aren't open quite yet. They've done a couple of soft openings this week with Crave "VIPs" to get feedback.
For sure, Woodman says, the spot will be a "restaurant first" since there are so many places on Shem Creek to just grab a beer. "We'll have the menu geared towards local businesses, and it will have a family friendly feel."
Keep up to date with the opening status by following Mill Street on Facebook and Instagram
. When the Shem Creek spot opens, be sure to say hey to Woodman if he's around.
"We think these restaurants are a testament to ourselves, but it's not. It's about our guests. We genuinely appreciate everyone who steps over the threshold, these people are honoring us. They're respecting us by coming into our establishment."