Daps co-owners Nick Dowling (left) and Jeremiah Schenzel (right) turn out fun takes on breakfast standards at their Westside restaurant | Photos by Ruta Smith

‘It’s Just Breakfast’

D aps Breakfast & Imbibe has risen to the top of Charleston lists and guides since opening in March 2018, guiding visitors toting luggage and bachelorette garb from short-term rentals northward, across the Crosstown Expressway to downtown’s Westside neighborhood. 

It’s not just the Fruity Pebble pancakes and breakfast burritos that are speaking to folks; Daps’ convivial, carefree atmosphere has Charlestonians in sweats saddling up next to nosey New Yorkers for unapologetically not-Southern breakfast plates and frosty canned mimosas. 

“We didn’t want to do what everyone else does for brunch. And we weren’t really sure what the space was going to turn into. There was nothing around here at the time, and we didn’t even know if we were going to be able to generate enough foot traffic,” said co-owner Jeremiah Schenzel. “All we were definite about is we are serving breakfast, and we will not serve biscuits and we will not serve grits … and we’ll have mimosas on tap.” 

A peek at Daps’ menu will show Schenzel and co-owner Nick Dowling have achieved those goals. Hearty breakfast sandwiches on house-made English muffins take the place of biscuits, and potato hash topped with poutine or Holy City Hogs pork will make you forget you’re missing your morning grits. And there are also 12-ounce cans of 8.5% alcohol by volume mimosas, including a rosé iteration made in collaboration with The Co-Op

The journey to get here, however, was anything but straightforward. 

“I used to live in the house right across the street with my now wife, and this building used to look like it was going to fall down,” Schenzel said. “It was just in shambles, and we used to look at it and go, ‘Man I wish someone would do something with that.’ ” 

Schenzel realized he could sign what’s called a letter of intent (LOI) on the property without the risk of putting money down, so he did, admitting he “honestly forgot about it” — until there was a sign on the building saying the landlord was looking to lease it out. 

Schenzel was working as the beverage director for Indigo Road Hospitality at the time, and Dowling was at High Wire Distilling making gin and bourbon. They decided it was time to take a chance on a breakfast concept they’d casually discussed in the past. 

“I was literally running Jimmy Red out of the still, and he calls me and basically tells me all about the LOI and was like, ‘What do you think about that breakfast idea we had?’” Dowling recalled. 

After signing a lease on the 280 Ashley Ave. property, Dowling and Schenzel got to work, renovating the place themselves while perfecting pancake recipes and popping up around town to introduce Daps to Charleston. During this time, their mantra became, “It’s just breakfast,” a theme that hints at the go-with-the-flow mentality the duo had prior to opening.

“That kind of turned into our running joke because we were like if people don’t like it, it’s just breakfast,” Schenzel said. 

It might just be breakfast, but Dowling and Schenzel realized Charlestonians take the morning meal seriously their first weekend in spring 2018, when they sold out before noon on Saturday and then again on Sunday. Fast forward two years, and the duo found themselves in a similar position, despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, however, plates of Daps pancakes were leaving in takeout boxes.  

“We were really lucky because we put a lot of effort into takeout food the last year before the pandemic,” said Dowling, recalling a weekend when they filled a record number of orders. “We had signed up for Uber Eats [and] our POS system literally that March had just started offering online ordering, so we were able to open up that platform for people.” 

The continued success of their takeout program led Dowling and Shenzel to expand their kitchen, sacrificing inside tables to allow for a more efficient kitchen. 

“It’s awesome to have people in here and throw that Daps party every week,” Schenzel said. “We’re still a small restaurant. We want people in here, but we don’t want those people taking up so much time that other things start to get lost.”  

That success has led to expansion discussions, but don’t expect a Daps in your neighborhood. Instead, the duo plans to bring their most popular packaged product to distribution.

“Finding another hole-in-the-wall neighborhood house that’s falling down because of termites is hard to come by now — we’re past that opportunity,” Dowling said. “Starting this fall, we’ll be taking our mimosas to distribution.” 

The “O.G.” mimosa will be the first to hit South Carolina stores, bars and restaurants. Moving forward, Daps will introduce an entire “fruit gang” to the market — that means grapefruit, pineapple, raspberry and peach canned mimosas, all of which will be force-carbonated and have a 5-to-1 ratio of dry white wine to juice, just like the original. 

“The recipe changed probably three times since we first opened,” said Dowling, adding that they use orange bitters to make the O.G. “We modified it a couple times and just got further and further away from sweetness and really just tried to bump up the orange flavor without actually putting a ton of orange juice in it.” 

In many ways, a diligent rethink of a beverage that’s an afterthought at most restaurants epitomizes Daps Breakfast & Imbibe. To put it in Schenzel’s words: “We don’t try to fit ourselves in this box.”

“We’ve always said we’re a neighborhood spot, and I still think we strive for that all the time. Having a local following speaks to the authenticity that we try to preach across the board,” he said. “Consistency is obviously one of the most important things with breakfast because that’s what brings the regulars back but also consistency in experience. I think that’s what’s driving people here. We don’t fit a model. Daps is Daps, and that’s the only way to explain it.”