When Greenville native chef Drew Erickson returned home after four years working at the French Laundry, the renowned California establishment that The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list twice named “best restaurant in the world,” he wasn’t sure what his next step would be.
All he knew was that whatever he did, it would be with Table 301 and the restaurant group’s founder, Carl Sobocinski.
“I’ll always be a Soby’s baby, so there was no question if I came back who I would work with,” Erickson said in September.
Now Erickson is hard at work on the menu for a new Table 301 concept set to open in the Campderdown development at South Main and Broad streets downtown in early spring.
The restaurant, which will be a freestanding building within Camperdown plaza, has yet to be named, and the menu is still being tweaked, but Sobocinski said it will cater to more casual diners with a globally-influenced menu.
“I don’t know if it’s just me or not, but it’s gotten to a point where, when I dine out, I don’t even go to the entrees,” Sobocinski said. “I just order two or three appetizers. I think the chefs are really more creative with appetizers, and I don’t have to eat a whole meal of one thing. That’s the best way to describe this new concept.”
With a menu that will likely combine Asian, Mediterranean, Indian and Greek dishes, it will veer away from Southern cuisine in an attempt to offer something new to the Table 301 portfolio, Sobocinski said.
“With it being right in the middle of the plaza, there will be a lot of foot traffic, a lot of energy,” he said. “We want a fun, upbeat neighborhood kind of vibe, a place where you can come in for a short stay, have some appetizers, a couple of drinks, and then move on as you continue touring downtown or going to a show, once live entertainment returns.”
The restaurant will include a chef’s bar, an outdoor patio area and a rooftop space. At roughly 3,500-square-feet, it will be a more intimate setting than other Table 301 eateries, with enough seating to fit 90 people inside and 35 up on the rooftop area.
It will be open seven days a week for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
‘Call it a placeholder’
The new concept at Camperdown will be the first restaurant Erickson has opened under Table 301, but Sobocinski said it won’t be the last.
Back in September, Sobocinski floated the idea of creating a concept that would offer high-end fare, bringing the same level of preparedness, presentation, service and wine list that would be found in a top-tier restaurant based in New York City.
“The best way I can describe it is that if we were in a big city that Michelin rates restaurants, this restaurant would be star-worthy,” Sobocinski said in September. “We know that’s a challenge and would cut our customer base to a small percentage when you do something like that. That’s not solely because of price point, either. This isn’t going to be a 45-minute dining experience, but more like a couple of hours.”
The new concept at Camperdown will not be aiming for that level of fine dining, which is by design, but Sobocinski said it will still give Erickson a test-run of sorts for when the day comes to open the higher-end concept.
“You could call it a placeholder, with him taking the lead, building the culinary team, and finding the people that are going to be capable of taking it over once we do move on to that next project,” Sobocinski said.
A vote of confidence
Based on projected timelines from last year, that high-end fine dining restaurant would have already been open had it not been for COVID-19.
But Sobocinski said he and his team are still scouting out locations and focusing on ensuring the financial health of its current business operations.
Even with the pause that occurred due to the pandemic, the push to move forward on opening the new casual dining concept in Camperdown by this Spring is his way of offering a vote of confidence, a belief that life — both in and out of the restaurant — will to return to a sense of normalcy by the end of winter.
“That’s just my opinion, of course, a gut feeling, but it’s from paying attention to where things are and where we’ve been going all the way back to March,” Sobocinski said. “It’s a vote of confidence that I’ve given to our team and our entire company.”
Meanwhile, he’s telling his staff to stay vigilant and continue to implement safety precautions to ensure employees, guests and the restaurants themselves remain healthy through what he calls “the final stretch.”
“We’re in the fourth quarter of the game here, and we’ve got to put our best effort forward,” he said, “but I do personally feel like better days are ahead, and we’ll get through this soon enough.”