[embed-1] Spero owners RJ Moody and Rob Laudicina posted the news on social media Monday night that this Saturday would be their final service. “It’s with heavy hearts and a clear conscience that we have come to this decision, and it wasn’t easy. If y’all are around this week, swing through and say hey. We’d love to see you.”
When the two opened the Meeting St. restaurant in March 2015, Moody told CP, “Our food concept? I go with the Bruce Lee quote: ‘Simplicity from freedom’… Nothing crazy or out of control, just the freedom to do whatever we want, whatever looks good that week or that day.”
Embracing that freedom, as well the S.C. state motto, Dum Spiro Spero — “While I breathe, I hope” — garnered the duo quite a following over the past few years.
[embed-2] Edmund’s Oast co-owner Scott Shor says that when he heard the news he immediately felt a sense of melancholy. “It’s hard news to swallow. It’s sad. I would say that Spero was something very special that represents a certain type of genuineness or authenticity that we don’t see often.”
In 2015, CP critic Eric Doksa waxed poetic about the quirky restaurant’s small plates — especially the ham and mustard butter — writing, “Spero is where you should eat right now.”
[embed-3] The owners told P&C that they were closing so they could tend to their personal lives, something Shor says can get lost in the daily battle of operating a restaurant. “It’s a brutal life, whether it’s closing a restaurant or major social issues that are often in the F&B world, it’s tough financially, but it’s also a tough lifestyle. These are guys with families,” says Shor.
Spero churns out a seasonal menu with inventive yet simple, good fare, from deviled eggs with everything bagel seasoning to bread flights so good you’ll forget you don’t eat gluten in public. And, unlike a lot of restaurants in this town, they don’t sweat the plating. Doksa writes, “We won’t fret about the appearance, as there are clear signs of simplistic creativity in the kitchen.”
[image-2] In our Winter 2018 Dish Dining Guide, focusing on small plates, small spaces, and small talk we highlighted Spero as a restaurant successfully embracing this model. Chef/owner Moody told Mark Rinaldi, “Our original idea behind opening Spero was that blue-collar people who don’t make a lot of money, who can’t afford to go out on the town on King Street, have a place to come where they can get the style of food they might get at McCrady’s or FIG and not shell out hundreds of dollars.”
Shor says that the people behind large, oft-noted restaurants like McCrady’s and FIG and Edmund’s Oast look at places like Spero and “it let’s us breathe a sigh of relief that something like that exists, this different kind of hospitality. Something that’s so much more nitty gritty and real life scrappy and fun, but you’re still getting that great local food and beverage. It represents that there’s a counterpoint to what we do.”
Shor cites other small, authentic concepts that have shuttered within the past couple of years — Artisan Meat Share, Butter Tapas, Two Boroughs Larder. “In Charleston we don’t see that [authenticity] often. So much of what we do is about putting on a show, smoke and mirrors. We teach our staff to act a certain way, a way that people don’t normally act. We plate food in fancy ways. We put on this theatrical performance and it’s great because it takes people [out of reality] but when you see a unique needle in a haystack, where it’s not all about pomp and circumstance, where it’s about people creating expertly crafted food without pretense and serving it wholesomely, it’s strikingly refreshing.”
Is Charleston all talk about craving those genuine dining experiences, but not really showing up? Is the, as Shor describes, “never-ending stress of the finite labor pool” partly to blame? Is Charleston’s ever-growing restaurant scene growing so fast the customers can’t fill seats and the dishes can’t get cleaned because the back of house is understaffed? Why do these special spaces close? Shor says he’s not sure what the answer is. Maybe there is no answer. Maybe there’s just breathing and hoping you’ll get it right while maintaining your sanity.
“Spero was a bastion of something more hopeful,” says Shor. “It was just two guys in there sort of just not giving a shit about pretense and making sure they give you something good and tell a couple of jokes. In lieu of a bigger urban environment, it’s all we have to hold on to the real authenticity of life.”
Visit Spero between now and Sat. July 21 for that bread flight with ham and mustard butter.