If you’re driving down Spring Street toward King, you may have seen its sign on the sidewalk — the drawing of the Arby’s hat with “The Pass” written inside instead of Arby’s. “We have the meats…” is underneath that hat, followed by the other provisions carried at The Pass, such as cheeses and wines.
Philadelphia native Anthony Marini, who moved to Charleston early last year, opened the 700- square- foot space in late July.
Though Marini comes from Philadelphia, he left a large footprint in the Birmingham, Alabama, culinary scene, opening two restaurants, AMBA and (local) that garnered national recognition in Bon Appetit, Cooking with Paula Deen and The New York Times in the 12 years he lived there.
“I ended up in Birmingham, thinking I’d stay there a year… for a teaching position,” Marini said. “I did that for a little while, but then the call came, and I started looking for spots.”
After 12 years, it was time for Marini to go home to Philly, where he worked as a chef in a restaurant outside the city. But, unsurprisingly, the pandemic shifted plans for Marini, who was gearing up to purchase the restaurant “four days” before the world stopped and the industry changed.
With many northern cities closed during the pandemic, according to Marini, he frequently visited friends in Atlanta and was invited by another friend to visit Mount Pleasant.
“I thought, ‘Okay, cool. It’s a beach town,’ ” Marini said. “And then someone took me down King Street, and I said, ‘There’s all this business, infrastructure, a bunch of nice restaurants and then I can be at a beach 15 minutes later? Sold.’ ”
Marini had plans to open a place in Charleston, and soon after moving, found the small space of what would become The Pass.
It’s certainly the opposite of the nighttime dinner restaurants Marini was used to in Birmingham and Philadelphia, but one that was adored and appreciated.
“I stepped into [The Pass] without a plan,” he said. “I got very excited by the idea of standing in the middle of this room and seeing the front door and the back door. I’ve had and worked in big restaurants all my life, so I was very excited.”
Eventually, he planned for it to be just a sandwich shop, with a little bit of wine and other smaller provisions.
It houses two coolers — one for wine and beer, the other for non-alcoholic beverages — a restroom, a small back room for storage and dishes, a kitchen line with no real oven and a dining space for one large table.
“It was just going to be really unique, interesting sandwiches. That’s why we put ‘unapologetically interesting sandwiches,” he added. “There’s no rhyme or reason to what I’m doing. That’s all it’s supposed to be — a little lunch, and I get to be home by six o’clock.”
But one night in late summer, after the doors were locked and the lights shut off, Marini walked by his little sandwich shop and realized it was missing something, like that one last topping to make a sandwich perfect.
With his restaurants in Alabama, Marini was used to working dinner services. However, The Pass’ hours were the opposite, only open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and he knew dinner service would be unlikely, given the restaurant’s small space.
“I worked in nighttime restaurants all my life,” he said. “And seeing [The Pass] at night made me a little sad. I didn’t want to have this place closed at night, but I don’t have a kitchen.”
As a compromise, Marini launched a special chef’s table reservation system via OpenTable in late September. The Pass’ chef’s table is an intimate, eight-course meal dining experience. For a minimum party of six and up to 10, guests would sit around a table as Marini cooked their meals just 15 feet away behind the counter.
“Within two weeks of opening up reservations, we were completely sold out for 2021,” Marini said. “I thought I was going to do one day a week, but ended up doing it four to five nights a week. Over 40 times, I did an eight-course menu, by myself, and I loved doing it.”
The menu for the chef’s table changes each night, and is determined by whatever Marini wants to cook. No single menu has been exactly the same, according to Marini. At least one and up to three menu items changed each night. Examples for courses include desserts, meat or fish and what Marini calls “complex carbohydrates,” which can be rice, risotto or some type of pasta.
Since the new year, though, the chef’s table has taken a pause for some “well-needed changes” that are beneficial to both himself and the guests, Marini said. Seating arrangements, wines and the menu itself will change.
“It might be less courses, but I’m Italian, so no one’s ever going to leave here unhappy and hungry.”
Plans to restart the chef’s table will be during the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.
The Pass is located at 207-A St. Phillip St. and is open Wed. to Sun. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Chef’s table reservations are currently closed. For updates, follow @thepasschs on Instagram.