From Southern barbecue to all-day breakfast to seaside Mediterranean fare, Charleston Hospitality Group aims to have something for every type of guest. The company, which was founded in 2005 in its namesake South Carolina city, operates ten venues in greater Charleston today and has plans to take its flagship breakfast and brunch concept nationwide. The company’s executives stress consistency and variety, aiming to offer a sufficient variety of meals and experiences to keep its customer base busy from sunup to sundown.
“Our brands have thrived on the idea of offering something for everyone. Everything we do is designed to reinforce that concept,” says director of marketing J. Michael Walker. “Charleston has so much to offer and attracts a fantastic demographic of people, so relying on just one concept for our company would be short-sighted. Our variety of brands allows people the choice to eat at one of our restaurants no matter what they’re craving, and we strive to consistently provide the best food and experiences that Charleston has to offer.”
Charleston Hospitality Group boasts $12 million in annual revenue, with beverage alcohol comprising roughly 35% of total sales. The beverage component is a huge part of the company’s experiences and each of its venues has a bustling bar program. Spirits and cocktails make up about 15% of total company revenue, followed by beer at 7% and wine at 6%, with non-alcoholic drinks comprising the remaining 8% of beverage sales. Charleston Hospitality Group emphasizes local products where possible, and offers beverages to fit within each restaurant’s theme, from several types of Mimosas and Bloody Marys at the breakfast venue to beers at its barbecue joint, and domestic and imported wines at its upscale Southern concept.
“Each of our restaurants has beverage and cocktail lists that are curated specifically for the concept,” says the group’s director of operations, Jeff Deihl. “Charleston is a drinking town and our bar business is a huge part of our company. Having an innovative beverage program allows us to distinguish ourselves from our competitors in a way that is creative and fun for our consumers. We enjoy coming up with creative ways to reinforce each of our brands.”
A Toast To Success
Charleston Hospitality Group was founded in 2005 when company CEO Sam Mustafa opened his first restaurant, Toast. Today, Toast boasts five locations around Charleston, and the concept has been pegged as the hospitality firm’s future growth engine. Walker says that national and international expansion of the Toast concept begins this year through a franchise model, with seven new units set to open in 2021. The company’s ultimate goal is to reach 100 units of Toast within the next decade. Units are expected to open this year in South Carolina beyond the Charleston area, as well as in Texas, Georgia, and Florida.
The drinks and food menus for Toast are standard across the concept. The venue emphasizes all-day breakfast and brunch, offering eggs and omelets prepared in myriad ways, along with signatures like Stuffed French Toast, crispy chicken and waffles, and biscuit-based sandwiches. These join brunch and afternoon specialties like surf and turf and shrimp and grits, as well as burgers, wraps, sandwiches, salads, and steak and seafood platters (food ranges from $4-$24 at Toast All Day in the Charleston suburb Mount Pleasant, South Carolina).
Mimosas and Bloody Marys highlight the beverage menu at Toast, as the concept lists several varieties of each. Mimosas range from a standard version made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and Wycliff California Brut sparkling wine to a cranberry juice-based Poinsettia, a St-Germain liqueur-based Hibiscus, and a Juarez Silver Tequila and grenadine-based Tequila Sunrise ($7 a glass; $14-$22 a carafe that fills four glasses). Toast’s Bloody Marys incorporate a range of house-infused Fleischmann’s vodkas, available in bacon, jalapeño, cucumber, and basil flavors (Bloody Marys are $9-$10 a glass; $26-$30 a carafe). A selection of specialty cocktails ($7-$9), from sangrias and punch to Mules and coffee-based drinks, are also available at Toast, joining a roster of 15 wines ($6-$8 a glass; $25-$99 a 750-ml.) and roughly 20 beers and ciders ($4-$7.50 a draft pour, bottle, or can).
“Each Toast has the same menu, but the design and architecture of each restaurant changes depending on the demographics of the area,” Walker says. “We cater to the location of each venue to allow its geography and customer base to influence the overall concept. We’re developing the Toast brand into a national and international franchise. While we remain consistent in the way we approach the customer, their experience, and the overall message we send, we also embrace change and work hard to adapt.”
Being able to adapt was key in 2020 and that continues this year. Charleston Hospitality Group venues are open for both indoor and outdoor dining, as allowed by the state of South Carolina, and are practicing enhanced safety measures. Walker says the company’s takeout and to-go business increased substantially during the Covid-19 pandemic and that he’s optimistic about a full business recovery in the future. To help the community during recent rough times, the company launched its Full Belly, Full Hearts program last year, providing free meals to healthcare workers, laid-off hospitality workers, and others who lost their jobs during the Covid-19 crisis. Walker says the company takes its position to help the local community seriously.
Charleston Hospitality’s bar program took the hardest blow last year. From a drinks perspective, Covid-19 had a massive impact, as South Carolina instituted a late-night curfew. “We took an initial hit when the pandemic started and we had to close for a month and a half,” Deihl says. “As the community reopens, we still follow an 11 p.m. curfew. We continue to take a hit on our late-night venues where, pre-pandemic, our primary alcohol sales were between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.”
With beverage sales reaching roughly $4 million a year, Charleston Hospitality Group puts a heavy emphasis on its bar programs and on letting the bar set the tone for an upbeat atmosphere. “Our brands stand out because we work hard to make them lively, fun, and energetic,” Walker says. “We’re dedicated to offering something new while also sticking to our high quality standards. Consistency is our main focus and we make it a point to treat all our guests, whether they’re locals or tourists, as family. Now more than ever, we could all use a drink, and we want guests to count on us for having the most unique cocktails and beers as we continue to grow.”
Along with offering a handful of Mimosas and Bloody Marys like its portfoliomate Toast, the Mediterranean concept Tabbuli has a lengthy specialty drinks menu, as well as a robust beer list. Tabbuli tenders signatures like the Ultimate Strawberry Basil Lemonade, made with Firefly Sweet Tea vodka, Bacardi Dragonberry rum, muddled basil and lemon, fresh lemonade, and strawberry purée, and the Peach Moonshine Julep, blending Firefly Peach moonshine, Kentucky Jack Straight Bourbon, peach purée, muddled mint, fresh lime juice, and Regatta ginger beer. Tabbuli also lists five variations of the Moscow Mule and classic staples like the Margarita, Mai Tai, and Mojito (cocktails are $9-$14), which join roughly 20 beers, from Budweiser, Miller Lite, Coors Light, and Guinness to local brews like Westbrook IPA and Island Coastal lager ($5.50-$7 a draft pour, can, or bottle). These complement Tabbuli’s menu of appetizers like hummus and fried eggplant and such larger dishes as lamb-filled pitas, gyro sandwiches, kabob platters, and pizzas (food is $7-$31).
Wine shines at Charleston Hospitality Group’s most upscale venue, Eli’s Table, though the concept also offers a full roster of cocktails and beers. The restaurant serves high-end Southern fare, like duck and waffles, shrimp and smoked gouda grits, a grilled Angus filet with marinated mushrooms and a Port reduction, and day boat scallops with risotto (entrées are $26-$46). Its wine list spans some 50 selections, skewing heavily toward California labels but also offering wines from Oregon, France, Italy, and Argentina.
Standout wines at Eli’s Table include Hahn Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir, Duckhorn Merlot, and Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (wines are $9-$14 a glass; $26.50-$125 a 750-ml.). These join specialty drinks like the Butterfly Kiss, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, lemonade, and a house-made butterfly agave tea syrup that contains turbinado sugar and lavender, and the Southern Gentleman, mixing Bulleit Bourbon, High Wire Distilling’s Southern Amaro liqueur, and Punt e Mes (cocktails are $10-$14). Eli’s Table also lists a handful of local beers, like Freehouse Brewery’s Folly’s Pride Golden ale and Revelry Brewing’s Rice lager (beers are $6.25-$7 a bottle).
“Our beverage program has evolved to really embrace the trend of highlighting creative options developed by local craft breweries and wineries,” Deihl says. “We’ve worked extensively to include microbreweries from the area and we’re dedicated to sourcing different wines that are unique and that our customers wouldn’t see in the grocery store. Meanwhile, our spirits and cocktails vary widely by concept, but we try to do as much in-house as possible to help us stand out. We infuse our own flavored vodkas to create something really special and we go beyond standard cocktails to create something innovative for each brand.” Deihl adds that Champagnes and sparkling wines rule at Toast, while California Sauvignon Blancs and Oregon Pinot Noirs are on the rise at some of the company’s other restaurants.
Charleston Hospitality Group honors its roots at concepts like the barbecue-focused Queology, the Southern-influenced JohnKing Grill & Bar, and the country music nightclub HonkyTonk Saloon. Queology was founded as a competitive barbecue concept. The restaurant’s pitmaster, Russ Cornette, has won a slew of awards for his sauces and barbecue fare. Queology serves wings, ribs, and smoked meats, as well as burgers and tacos ($7-$47), which complement Southern cocktails like the Mason-Dixon, a boozy Arnold Palmer made with Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka and lemonade, and the Palmetto Punch, mixing Admiral Nelson Coconut and Spiced rums, grenadine, and orange and pineapple juices (cocktails are $8-$12). The venue offers a variety of beers too, from big-name domestic labels to local craft brews ($4-$8 a draft pour, bottle or can).
HonkyTonk Saloon has a similar menu, offering barbecue, burgers, and tacos ($7-$50). But it has a much bigger bar program, as the venue emphasizes country music and dancing. HonkyTonk Saloon lists several types of domestic and imported beers ($3.50- $5 draft pour or bottle) and offers spirits and Champagne bottle service in its VIP room (most bottles are $350 a 750-ml.). The dance club also has approachable specialty cocktails ($5-$10), like the Chasing Daylight, made with George Dickel No. 12 whiskey and lemonade and cranberry juices, and the HonkyTonk Sunset, blending Ketel One vodka, grenadine, pineapple juice, and sour mix. A variety of Ketel One Botanical vodka-based Spritzes are also available.
Meanwhile, JohnKing Grill & Bar offers a more upscale-casual approach to Southern charm. The restaurant serves fried pork rinds with craft beer cheese, bacon fat confit fried chicken wings, and burgers made with a blend of short rib, brisket, and chuck beef (food is $8-$22). JohnKing has a bustling bar, with more than 25 beers available ($5-$8 a draft pour, bottle, or can) and domestic wines like Rodney Strong Chardonnay and 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon ($8 a glass; $26 a 750-ml.). JohnKing’s cocktail list includes classic signatures ($10) like a Knob Creek-based Man O’ War and a Hendricks’ gin-based Collins, as well as specialty shots ($7).
“It’s important to us that our standards of service are consistently excellent across the board,” Walker says. “We’re passionate about our company’s mission in providing our guests and the community with the grandest experience that Charleston has to offer.”
Deihl adds that service and entertainment go hand-in-hand for Charleston Hospitality Group. “Our venues stand out because of our consistent efforts to provide excellent service and entertainment, and offer something unique to each location,” he explains. “Our venues have elements that honor their home city while also offering culinary and entertainment options that cater to tastes from around the world.”