James Island was once an area full of nationwide chains and fast food joints with a few hidden gems known only to longtime locals.
Not any more. Now there are more options than ever for residents and visitors featuring new food and beverage spots outside of the peninsula from new concepts like rotisserie chicken joint El Pollo Guapo, Point Break Coffee & Drive-Thru, and Wisconsin Meat & Cheese on Folly Road to the expansion of existing local businesses such as Millers All Day and Huriyali. Mount Pleasant’s highly touted Pakistani restaurant Malika Canteen is also joining the James Island crowd March 8 at Charleston Pour House.
“It snowballs,” said Brian Piesner, owner of Coastal Crust and Coastal Snack Bar. “If somebody’s doing well, bringing in nice clientele and is supported, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we can open down the road and probably do well there.’ ”
While gourmet pizza restaurant Coastal Crust expanded to James Island from Mount Pleasant three years ago, Piesner and company opened a brand new concept, Coastal Snack Bar, in mid-January less than two miles down the street on Harbor View Road.
“Now that we opened the Snack Bar,” he said, “I feel like the shift of excitement is going to be like, ‘Man, what’s going on over there?’ Now all of a sudden, this little pocket of town has some options.”
Coastal Snack Bar brings the same quality of food as Coastal Crust, but with a Caribbean island twist. It offers dishes like a blackened fish sandwich with citrus slaw and mahi mahi or a pecan gorgonzola salad for a healthy balance of sweet, spice, bitter and acid.
Like Coastal Crust, other existing establishments have joined the island. Millers All Day opened a second location in the Terrace Plaza on Maybank Highway in September, following the opening of My Father’s Moustache on the same street in August. West Ashley coffee spot Highfalutin set up shop just a few doors down from Coastal Crust while downtown coffee spot Huriyali opened its second location on Wappoo Drive.
Nate Thurston, co-owner of the popular downtown brunch spot Millers All Day said he realized that while the original location is a hot destination, especially for tourists, there was a need for a place on James Island that is focused on residents. If you’ve driven down King Street toward Broad Street, chances are you’ve seen the line outside of Millers All Day.
“It’s a little bit of a blessing and a curse,” Thurston said. “It’s a great scenario for the business, but it does make it inaccessible to some degree. So for that reason, we wanted to start getting some neighborhood exposure and specifically cater to the locals, which was our goal from the beginning.”
But translating the busy brunch spot to a quieter location can present different scenarios.
“The demographic could not be more different,” he said. “We’ve enjoyed learning to cater to a local community versus downtown which is, you know, alive. It’s very different. But we’re enjoying the diversity of each.”
The James Island Millers deviates from its downtown location by serving its menu from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and incorporating daily dinner specials such as the farmhouse frittata, which is made with rainbow cauliflower, asparagus and sweet peppers and topped with roasted carrots. So, if you missed out on grabbing a Millers Plate — two eggs, Jimmy Red Corn Grits or home fries, biscuit, bacon and pickled vegetables — at the downtown location, head across the bridge to Maybank Highway and enjoy breakfast for dinner.
The new guard
James Island residents may see these familiar places nearer to home, but there’s plenty of new places to eat, too. El Pollo Guapo serves up gourmet rotisserie chickens on Folly Road. Wisconsin Meat & Cheese brings a new selection of options for a charcuterie board. And Odyssey Bottle Shop offers wine, international craft beers and a place to hang out in a little shopping center on Harbor View Road.
El Pollo Guapo had big shoes to fill when it moved in December into the building formerly occupied by Black Magic Cafe on Folly Road, a James Island staple for 13 years.
“When we first announced that we were coming in, it was a little bit of a mixed bag,” said Roy Reidl, co-owner of El Pollo Guapo. Some were devastated at the news of Black Magic’s closing, while others were excited for something new to the area, he added.
Reidl and his wife Heather are Connecticut natives with three El Pollo Guapo locations in their home state. During the pandemic, however, Reidl realized Connecticut wasn’t the right market, as El Pollo Guapo always had a beach/surfer vibe, he said. He and his family welcomed the beach town and wanted to promote the laid-back lifestyle with a Charleston location. The locations in Connecticut are still open.
“We feel very excited to be a part of the community here and want to give back,” Reidl said. “That’s something that’s really important to us.”
Despite its name, El Pollo Guapo isn’t a Mexican restaurant. It specializes in rotisserie chicken with Latin-inspired seasoning and sides, but you can find a couple tacos options on the menu, too.
Reidl and his family aren’t the only transplants to open up shop on the Island, either. Owners Taylor Ambrosius and her boyfriend Casey Diedrich opened Wisconsin Meat & Cheese in November, bringing a slice of their cheesy home state to the Lowcountry. Ambrosius, a Wisconsin native and Charleston attorney, and Diedrich import childhood favorite brands from Wisconsin to offer to James Island residents.
There’s many people from Wisconsin who live here, or have family in Wisconsin who have been very receptive about the shop, she said. “We’ve also had a lot of people that are from here, or from other places, that have given us a lot of really good feedback.”
The meat and cheese shop brings Wisconsin-original meats, locally made cheese and snack items like Potter’s Crackers, a whole grain, organic line of crackers, crisps and oyster crackers that are produced with locally sourced whole-wheat flour and local milk and butter. Customers as far away as Sumter have visited the area to pick up a piece of their Wisconsin home, according to Ambrosius.
Not too far away on Harbor View Road, Russell and Katherine Dodson said they opened Odyssey Bottle Shop in June to fill a need in the community. The shop specializes in craft beers, both local and international, and wines. It brings in local talent with frequent food truck pop-ups.
“For people on James Island, there just weren’t a lot of options [especially for craft beer],” said Russell Dodson. “Every time we’d ask anybody where they go, it was either a gas station or a grocery store, which you know, the selection isn’t that vast considering what’s out there and available.”
Odyssey Bottle Shop does more than just sell bottles and beer, though. Each week is a new line of international craft beers on tap, along with wine available by the glass and bottle, food trucks parked outside, pop-up smokers in the large back patio and even some arcade games.
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