Smoked: Oysters, Family, and History on Columbia’s Main StreetDec 13, 2022 03:57PM ● By Amy Bonesteel
Sara and Greg Middleton grew up with Methodist minister parents who started senior care facilities and hospices under the name LTC Health Solutions. As the family business evolved into property development in downtown Columbia, the siblings decided to open a fine dining restaurant, Smoked, that will highlight local produce, oysters, and fresh, made-on-site beer.
It is the brother and sister’s first official partnership, although they learned the restaurant business hands-on while helping to run spots including The Main Course (with the members-only Player’s Club) and The Grand eateries and entertainment venues with their father, Scott Middleton, across the street.
Renovating three Civil War-era storefronts (circa 1866) on Main Street for the business was an adventure, according to Sara Middleton, an attorney who shares her family’s interest in history.
“We noticed a burn line on several walls,” she says, “So we called (preservationists) Historic Columbia to come take a look.” The mark was from Sherman’s burning of Columbia, experts agreed. The Middletons partnered with Columbia’s Garvin Design Group for the renovation project.
Sifting through decades of history (“We would discover vintage liquor bottles and artwork in the walls,” she notes) – the properties had been a furniture store, wig shop and cigar store most recently – was “fascinating” but not easy.
While offering state and federal tax credits, a historical designation requires the construction be according to protocol, including historical colors, plaster and wall construction. “I always cried when they told us we had to cover up the (atmospheric and authentic) brick,” jokes Middleton. “You end up spending a lot more money.”
Shortages in the labor force made the rebuild even more challenging, with the hospitality industry still regaining momentum lost to the pandemic. “So many people left the hospitality world during Covid and don’t want to come back,” notes Middleton. “Being in a city like Columbia we watched everyone struggle. We are thankful that we were able to push through.”
The hard work was recognized: the properties have been awarded the 2022 South Carolina Historic Preservation Award and the 2022 Historic Columbia Preservation Award. Additional kudos came from a 2022 Columbia Chamber of Commerce Impact Award, the “Golden Nail” designation.
South Carolina tastes
Middleton says the idea for the upscale restaurant’s menu came to her and her brother during a boat ride on Lake Murray.
“He had just gotten a smoker and suggested we do smoked meats,” she recalls, one-upping the idea by bringing fresh oysters into the mix. Bringing out the sea flavor during the process, in-house smoked pork and meats can be used to enhance the seafood with toppings and also stand alone as some of the spot’s most popular dishes like Bacon Steak, Blackberry Trinity (smoked pork tenderloin, pork belly and sausage with smoked blackberry barbecue). Mesquite Smoked Rack of Lamb, and seasonal Pumpkin Ale Butter Oysters.
Locally sourced produce, meat and seafood take center stage under the helm of Chef Mike Ellis. An example was the restaurant’s suppliers for July’s South Carolina Farm Bureau’s “Palmetto Palate” event that included dishes made with peaches from McLeod Farms in McBee, peppers from Pucker Butt Pepper Company in Rock Hill, Clemson Blue Cheese from Hickory Farms in Edgefield County, and grits from Hen Mill on Edisto Island.
“I always say people do want great food – it’s good for you,” says Middleton. “Everything here is done in-house. We can some of our own vegetables and even pickle our own okra. It’s a very high quality of food.”
A fun bonus to the dining establishment is a members-only speakeasy called Burnline in the basement, filled with “really unique bourbons and whiskies,” says Middleton, who had the idea after visiting similar spots in New York City. “It took us over a year to curate all the collection.” Members (over 70 in number currently) include corporate customers, she adds.
Envisioning a “one-stop shop” for Columbia’s Main Street, Middleton says Smoked adds another amenity for those who can now work, exercise, shop, and dine in the downtown area. “We saw so much potential in this whole area.”
About 35 percent of the restaurant’s business is corporate and private events, and Middleton expects more when the brewery opens. The turfed outdoor courtyard is perfect for weddings and Smoked’s holiday bookings were busy at press time. Holidays look to be busy, with family and business parties booked.
Coming soon: Peak Drift Brewery
Next year the restaurant will expand with its own on-site brewery called Peak Drift. Covering 65,000 square feet and including an outdoor entertainment area, the 25,000-square foot production facility will be able to produce 25,000 barrels of beer a year – and will also make hard seltzer, non-alcoholic beer and nitro coffee (a variation of cold brew using nitrogen gas).
Leading the effort is experienced master brewer Ashley Kinart-Short, one of the few women in the fast-growing industry. With state of the art brewing equipment at her disposal in the historic structure she says the offbeat environment will impact the brewery’s output: “We will be making new, unique styles using new technology right alongside longstanding traditional styles that have been staples of the industry for hundreds of years.”
Peak Drift will have its own executive chef and menu, with the same focus on local ingredients. Kinart-Short looks forward to exploring new beverage/food pairings, she says.
“When creating new beer recipes, I always enjoy looking for inspiration from those around me. Having our restaurant on site means having the opportunity to work closely with the chef in bouncing flavor combination ideas off each other.” The brewery space is planned to open by summer, 2023.
Smoked is located at 1643 Main St., Columbia. www.smokedsc.com