John Lewis channeled the El Paso-style flavors he grew up with for Juan Luis | Photo by Ruta Smith

Second and Last

John Lewis moved to Charleston in 2015, opening his namesake Central Texas-inspired restaurant a year later in June 2016. The acclaimed pitmaster earned Charleston’s love, leading him to share the cuisine he grew up with in El Paso, Texas, at a second concept called Juan Luis — first at Workshop, then later in a trailer parked outside Lewis Barbecue. 

The year 2020 brought change for Lewis, but so will 2021 and 2022, when he’ll open Juan Luis’ restaurant in the former Workshop space and add another Lewis Barbecue location in Greenville.

I remember doing an event at Holy City Brewing with Rodney Scott in 2015. That was my first time ever in South Carolina or Charleston. People were raving about the food — I don’t think they had ever had Texas-style beef barbecue before. Everyone was super receptive to it. There is a long barbecue tradition here — barbecue is something people want to eat, but there wasn’t the niche for what we do. I thought it would be a great fit. The summer before we opened, we did a pop-up at Revelry Brewing every Saturday for the whole summer, so we created quite a following with that. 

The brisket that you’re eating tonight would have started two nights ago. We do a really, really low smoke for a long time — you’re looking at about 36 hours on the pit, and briskets will come off four times each day. We don’t sell out of food, which is really good. I’d rather be ringing the registers all day long. We have more smokers, and we never stop. We’re just constantly staging food throughout the 24-hour period of the day, and there’s never any down time. 

We’ve been looking at a second and last place in the South somewhere. You can’t keep control of it if it gets bigger than two, and I don’t want the quality to go down. It’s beautiful in Greenville — the people are nice up there, and they’ve got a cool food scene. There’s a lot of homegrown stuff going on with local ingredients. It seemed like a good fit, and they don’t really have anything like we do for barbecue up there. We get tons of people coming down here from Greenville just to come to our place.

We had also been looking around for a brick-and-mortar spot for Juan Luis for a while. I grew up in El Paso, Texas, so this is the food that I grew up on, and that doesn’t exist here. There’s Mexican food, but it’s not like that El Paso-style Mexican food. I crave it all the time. 

The menu is going to be a lot bigger and a lot more approachable. There’s going to be lots of meat and stuff on the menu — it’s not just going to be enchiladas. I would describe it as West Texas cowboy cooking. A little bit of Mexican food, and a little bit of New Mexican food.

We’re shooting for Sept. 1 for Juan Luis, so that’s the first thing ahead of me right now. Most of the effort is going into that, but I’ll be in Greenville once a week planning preliminary things up there. But the lead up to Sept. 1 will be all hands on deck for Juan Luis. 

It’s going to be a fun place. It’s going to look nothing like the Workshop does — our goal is when you walk in, you don’t know that it used to be the Workshop.