Portable heaters are a hot commodity at local Charleston restaurants | Photo provided

Charleston restaurants were forced to add heaters and warm-weather menu items quickly last week as temperatures dropped during the first few days of December. But with a continued emphasis on outdoor dining amid the pandemic, last week was a sign of the challenges ahead as cooler temps move in.

“Initially, when we knew we were going to be reopening later in the year, we had already purchased six of the mushroom heaters,” said Brandon Underwood, the general manager at Estadio on Spring Street, which reopened for outdoor-only dining in late November following a five-month closure due to the pandemic. “But, in the first week, we realized that wasn’t enough, so we got three more heaters.” 

Underwood purchased the last three heaters on eBay, and one diner even asked an Estadio employee if he could buy one from the restaurant. 

Heaters are a must at Estadio, which is open for outdoor-only dining | Photo provided

Park Circle favorite Jackrabbit Filly also scrambled to procure outdoor heaters last week. 

“Heating our patio has been the latest bane of my existence for the past few weeks,” co-owner Corrie Wang told the City Paper last week. “Just today, our contractor strung up these hanging heat lamps that give off a two-inch radius of heat. Tonight, I’ll have to cut those down, return them and tomorrow Snyder is delivering us long-term rentals for those propane mushroom heaters.” 

Kwei Fei and Micho, two neighboring James Island eateries owned by David and Tina Schuttenberg, are making the best of a tricky situation. Micho is located on the Pour House deck where owner Alex Harris recently added heaters and is ordering branded blankets, Tina said. 

Tina Schuttenberg | File photo

The Schuttenbergs have made a few adjustments at Kwei Fei to encourage outdoor dining. 

“Over at Kwei Fei, we’ve added heaters,” Tina said. “The Kwei Fei patio is the perfect setup to completely enclose the space with plastic, but we’ve decided that for us it’s better to keep it open for COVID safety. We’ve also looked to the menu items to help add comfort by including more brothy items than ever to both Kwei Fei and Micho.” 

Corrie’s husband, Jackrabbit Filly executive chef, Shuai Wang always features hearty, comforting noodle and ramen dishes on his winter menu, and this year will be no different, Corrie said. Stop by on ramen Wednesdays, and the restaurant even throws in a half-price bottle of wine.

Find ramen and other hearty dishes on Jackrabbit Filly’s winter menu | Jackrabbit Filly Instagram

Estadio is leaning into cold weather mode with its menu, adding a third paella offering and items like steamed clams and Moroccan-spiced braised chicken. The Spanish-inspired restaurant is even attempting to recreate its indoor ambiance on its patio, Underwood said.

“We spent a lot of time in the back patio area collecting and trading plants, going to shops and then just stringing things up until it felt really comfy and stylish,” he said. “We rolled out some AstroTurf, so it’s like its own little room back there.”

Local chefs and restaurateurs are doing everything they can to combat the cold, but will it be enough? 

City Paper spoke with one restaurateur who is unsure that the return on investment in propane heaters is worth it due to the ongoing costs of running them and concerns that they wouldn’t even make a difference. 

Jackrabbit Filly co-owners Corrie and Shuai Wang scrambled to secure their outdoor heaters | Ruta Smith

Jackrabbit Filly is already feeling the effects of cooler temperatures during COVID times, Wang said. 

“Prior to this chill, the patio was a solid fourth to a third of our nightly sales. Tonight, we have no reservations for it,” she said on Wednesday. “This completely affects my staffing and the tips that my servers walk with — nevermind simple restaurant sales. I usually look forward to the chilly Charleston season — it’s my favorite time of year. This year, I already can’t wait for it to be over, and we’re only a few days in.”