Workshop, Charleston's "exploratory food court," gives chefs and restaurateurs a chance to stretch their culinary muscles before moving on to the next big thing. Restaurant concepts rotate in and out of the space, build their brands, gauge local reaction to the cuisine, and get a grasp of the business side of running a restaurant. Two current concepts, Pink Bellies and Spanglish, are moving out of the space this month. The restaurants have achieved a strong local following and are ready to tackle new ventures.
"We're working on a couple of things," says Spanglish chef and co-owner Tomas Prado. "We'll have some pop-ups for now and hope to have something more concrete closer to the end of the year." The first-generation Cuban-American chef has crafted his menu around the traditional Cuban dishes he ate at home along with some Miami and Lowcountry influences. "These are the dishes that we grew up eating in Miami with my parents. My mom is a great cook," he says. He brings heart to his kitchen and focuses heavily on local ingredients — locally sourced meats and produce abound on the menu. Not only does Prado want to honor his culinary heritage, but he strives to respect the Lowcountry community he's introduced himself to.
While Prado has a strong restaurant background, Workshop has been the perfect venue to debut his personal ventures. "We wanted to use this opportunity to really build our brand and get name recognition in this market, which we were able to do here," he says. Prado and his wife, Lynda, signed a six-month contract in May, and, while they appreciated the Workshop experience, they're looking forward to keeping the momentum going. Look for pop-ups and possibly food truck endeavors before they announce a more long-term plan later this year. "For the month of October, we'll be doing pop-ups at Charles Towne Fermentory on Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m. Food trucks are another option that we're considering if our more permanent space is delayed. We're really honing in on a permanent home, and hopefully we'll have more details to share on that before the year is over."
Prado says he's also looking forward to ramping up the Spanglish menu. His current offerings have been successful, and he's ready to challenge himself with more creative dishes: "We're definitely going to keep playing with the menu. We hope to include some dishes that are a little more elevated at a great price point, and I'll get to use more of the techniques and training that I've had over the years. That's really what I'm excited about."
- Ruta Smith
- Thai Phi of pink bellies is traveling to vietnam for a few months of research
Thai Phi's Pink Bellies, one of the earliest additions to Workshop, closed up shop this Mon. Oct 15. "The past year-and-a-half has been a tremendous learning experience in every aspect and has shown us (as a business and as a team of people) how resilient we are and how much we love our mission of sharing joy through delicious food," Phi says.
The restaurant began as a wildly successful food truck, with Phi serving up a menu of Vietnamese dishes rooted in the family recipes he grew up with. The Workshop stall has been a welcome addition in a city where many are hungry for more diversity in our cuisine options. "Pink Bellies began as a mission to share Vietnamese culture through delicious food," says Phi. "Good Asian food is quite inaccessible on an everyday basis in Charleston and my goal is to make it a subconscious part of everyday life here, meaning high quality, accessibility, and no frills. We just want to share what we love and make sure it's easy for people to obtain."
Phi has big ideas for the future of his business, but first, he's going to spend some time at home reconnecting with the culture, cuisine, and family that led to Pink Bellies. "I'll be taking the end of the year and early 2019 to spend time with family and to strengthen my roots and love of Vietnamese food," he says. "My few months in Vietnam will bring me closer to my roots, and I'll be able to learn from some of the best. My aunt is connecting me with her chef friends to teach me their ways. I'm looking forward to sharing everything I'll learn during those months with Charleston. I'm thinking really delicious pho (vegetarian, chicken, and beef) as the focus with support from dishes I've been thinking about since my visits as a kid like char-grilled Nem Nuong spring rolls and papaya beef jerky salad."
Before he jets off for Vietnam, Phi says he's looking forward to a November collaboration with Tapio Boba Tea Cafe on Coming Street. Be sure to catch them there and keep an eye out for more on his 2019 plans.