A lot of us that know and are familiar with downtown Savannah remember the night of the fire back in 2008. We remember it well. Those of us in the newsrooms of Savannah heard a report of a fire downtown. In the scramble to get a crew dispatched, no one really put two and two together as to what exactly where this fire was beyond an address. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that we learned the old BPOE and YMCA building at 12 West Oglethorpe was the building on fire. From everything we were being told, it was pretty bad.
Thankfully, due to the quick reaction from Savannah Fire, those flames didn’t spread. The damage they did, however, was catastrophic. As a result, the building sat empty for years. The roof that had caved in from the fire had a gaping hole. Every drop of rain to fall on Savannah for 6 or so summers went right inside. Made itself at home. There are photos on display to prove this.
Today, that same building, renovated and polished prettier than you could have ever imagined that night in 2008, is the home of Savannah’s newest crown jewel of a restaurant. It’s called Husk and it figures to play a major role in the continued growth of Savannah’s food scene with a very popular hyper-local Southern concept.
“We actually started talking about Savannah maybe 18-24 months ago” says David Howard, President of the Neighborhood Dining Group, parent company to the Husk brand as well as Charleston’s McCrady’s and Minero. “We had several discussions about places where we could have a good fit for Husk.” “Savannah was a perfect fit. As was this building. It feels like a Husk”
There are 3 Husks already in operation around the South. The original in Charleston, one in Nashville and one in Greenville, South Carolina. Savannah, though, is the biggest. 3 stories and 10,000 square feet of dining and private event space. Its seating capacity will top 200. Including a-nothing short of spectacular-bar area that will seat 84.
“We’ve taken our time to get this right.” Howard says. “Not only in Greenville, but in Savannah as well.”
There’s a particular focus with this ownership group on staffing. Every new restaurant that opens in Savannah will tell you they want to hire the right people. The kind of person who will properly execute the vision of their concept. This was no different, but clearly with 3 restaurants opened already, Howard says it was easier to find people who fit the Husk way. “You can list where you work on a sheet of paper” he says “but our first criteria was to find people willing to invest in the concept.”
They’ve hired between 75-80 employees to start and figure to add another 30 once lunch service begins.”We wanted people who, for example, cared about recycling, or were super passionate about growing tomatoes in their backyard.” he adds.
Ultimately, that type of knowledge is not only critical to being able work at Husk, but also executing the meals they will be serving. One of the first things diners will see behind the hostess stand is a nearly floor to ceiling chalk board with a list of area farms their ingredients were provided by. It’s not just for show either. Knowing what chefs are working with is very serious business around here. All it takes is one chat with Executive Chef Sean Brock to learn that. “We are more excited about Savannah than we have ever been.” Brock says.
The concept has done incredibly well in Charleston and Nashville. Husk Charleston was named Best New Restaurant in 2011 by Bon Appetit Magazine. It is one of best restaurants in the South and that is saying something. Now it is coming to Savannah. Doors will open for dinner beginning Wednesday, January 3rd.
“Our goal, as it is with any new restaurant, is to get it right” Howard tells me. “We will have 230 seats to fill, but we aren’t going to fill them on opening night.” “I’d rather do 50 or 60 or 70 people very well than try to fill the room and not make every guest experience memorable.” It will take some time to get all systems running, but they promise to get it right as soon as possible.
Until they get all of their numbers in line, dinner will be reservations only beginning at 5:00pm every day with no exceptions. Initially, the bar area will be by reservation only as well.
“We are excited to be here.” Howard says. “I’ve spent 12 to 14 months here in Savannah working on this and I can genuinely say we are excited. I can sense and feel its growth everywhere in the city. We are excited about the quality and hospitality that we offer.”
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