Greenville’s Hospitality Scene is Bringing the City Money and Attention

By Katrina Daniel
August 01, 2013
A new bar here, a new restaurant over there, a resurrected jazz club down the street, and still another trendy new sipping spot popping up on a downtown rooftop.

Are you seeing a trend here? It is the ascent of Greenville’s hospitality business, which is booming. Greenville has been discovered as a foodie, entertainment, sports, tourism venue, giving rise to: “Yeah, THAT Greenville,” the trendy new mantra that seeks to make our Greenville stand out from the 50 or so other Greenvilles around the country.

The Upstate area as a whole -- the food festivals, art strolls, cycling and kayaking events, marathons and mud runs, the French fries and fried green tomatoes -- all are being named in some of the country’s most prestigious publications, including Forbes, Maxim (think Cosmopolitan for men), and Southern Living, to name just a few.

Proof that the hospitality business is bringing in bigger bucks is in the growth of revenues from the hospitality tax.

“This tax is a 2 percent tax on prepared meals and beverages citywide, not just downtown,” says Mary Douglas Hirsch, Downtown Development Manager. “In 2010 fiscal year, total revenues were $6,571,109. In 2011-12, it grew to $7,088,246.”

“The growth in this revenue shows how Greenville is growing as a tourist destination. We’ve been able to spend this revenue on projects such as Falls Park, and the Swamp Rabbit Trail System,” she explains.

There are now 112 restaurants just in downtown Greenville, including the recently opened, SIP, Jason Fletcher’s newest venture.

Fletcher and wife Becky also own The Green Room (named as having some of the best French fries in the country), as well as Ford’s Oyster House and Cajun Kitchen, and The Loft at Falls Park.

They have opened four venues just since 2009. Their High Street Hospitality company motto seems to be: “Find a food and drink void, and fill it”.

Jason Fletcher explains, “Opening the Green Room was fulfilling, and we perceived a void in Greenville in 2009 -- a casual restaurant and bar that served great in-house made items. We had grown accustomed to this after living in Munich, Germany for five years before moving to Greenville. When we opened Ford’s, the location meant a lot to us because it overlooked the Falls Cottage where we had been married in 2008. Also, the layout of the building was perfect to fill another void. In 2012 Becky and I were in Napa, looking at wineries as we were thinking of opening a small wine bar in Project One. I got an email from a friend letting us know that that the rooftop event space in the Proaxis building might be looking for a change in event management. One thing led to another and after a couple of weeks we reached an agreement and work started to develop SIP, our ‘small’ wine bar, which is now 7,000 square feet. When we started The Green Room, neither Becky nor I ever thought that in four years we would have four locations in downtown Greenville. They just found us at the right time, and the market was hungry for more. In all things we do, we try to bring something new to the scene and I think we have accomplished our mission. As Greenville continues to grow, I’m sure so will the possibilities.”

Another family/business partnership that sees the possibilities in the hospitality business is that of the Hincapie brothers, George and Rich.

The brothers took a large leap of faith, branching out from their Hincapie Sports company to purchase the luxury bed and breakfast inn, La Bastide, in Traveler’s Rest. Their plan is to use their expertise in sports and cycling marketing to make this new venture a success.

“My brother and I had always ridden past the property, when we noticed it had closed down we began to discuss how great it would be to own it and inject what we liked in various properties we’ve stayed in around the world, “ explains Rich Hincapie. “Many people thought we plan to attract athletes, as that is obvious, but we plan on making this a facility for everyone to enjoy. Although we aren’t open yet, there have been a number of weddings already booked, as well as corporate events.“

“We have already established an events component to the property called ‘Experience Domestique,’ which will be events that are run Sunday through Wednesday, whether it’s a cycling event, running, photography, or cooking, the template will be the same with high end wines, food, massage, seminars, activities, etc. We want people to experience all that the area and property have to offer. Our vision is to show everyone else what we already know and why we moved here. We have produced races and corporate events for many years, our mission is to show more people the uniqueness of the area.”

The newly renovated La Bastide is expected to open in October. It will feature a wine bar, a new second floor of the restaurant (doubling its size), a larger indoor/outdoor bar, and a new swimming pool with an outdoor pizza oven. Also in October, the Hincapies will stage another of their well-respected cycling events, which brought 1,240 riders, as well as their supporters, to our area last year. This year they are expecting to double that number.

Recognized as one of the prime movers of Greenville’s food and entertainment experience is Carl Sobocinski, who opened his first restaurant in 1997. Since then he has launched several others, and co- founded ‘euphoria’, the popular food and music festival, which takes place in September.

Sobocinski explains what makes him bet so fiercely on the growth of Greenville’s hospitality business. “I believe in where we are going as a community, it has taken a lot of hard work, collaboration, determination, creativity, from a large and varied group of people, to get where we are today.”

But Sobocinski adds, “We need to keep our foot on the gas. Greenville is definitely getting on more people’s radar, but we can’t stop now. We need to keep doing what we’re doing and keep working to achieve national media attention. It’s paying off by bringing visitors to the area. We keep seeing the tourism numbers rise, but we can’t stop here. We need to continue to improve reasons to visit Greenville – especially when thinking about our signature events that bring people into the area like the BMW Golf Tournament, Artisphere, Fall for Greenville, and euphoria. Each of these events is continually evolving, giving both local residents and visitors reasons to participate and engage every year.”

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