Caviar & Bananas, a beloved Charleston market and cafe, opened its first out-of-market location in August 2016 next to the Aloft Greenville downtown hotel in the One City Plaza.
Then-owners Kris and Margaret Furniss struggled to make the numbers work and eventually sold the brand, including three other locations, in October 2018 to New York City-based Feenix Venture Partners.
That transition in ownership and management took its toll on the Greenville location with staff turnover and changes in menu and hours. With new management coming on board late July, however, the new ownership is looking to make up lost ground and remain a staple in downtown Greenville’s restaurant scene.
Newly named president Jay Griffin is based in Alabama but oversees Caviar & Bananas locations in Charleston, Greenville and Nashville, Tennessee.
“A transition becomes all about the transition and the sale, and it’s easy to lose sight of the day-to-day operations,” he says. “As Feenix purchased Caviar & Bananas, our community presence and community involvement fell off.”
He’s quick to qualify that statement to say that loss of community presence was never intentional but rather a byproduct of losing key staff and intellectual property through the transition. Griffin plans to fix that.
“We as an organization required a lot of attention with the Charleston and Nashville locations,” he says. “Greenville kind of got lost in the middle. Since I joined in July, I’ve made Greenville a focus.”
Griffin plans to do that by building relationships that make Caviar & Bananas more than just a four-walled restaurant.
“It is an extremely close-knit community, and it matters to be connected to that,” Griffin says.
Already he’s looking to forge relationships with other restaurant owners and nonprofits that align with the company’s goals and community efforts.
“We’re very intent on finding a way to get in and build those relationships and support meaningful organizations,” he says.
One of the challenges the Furnisses referred to when they were owners is the location off Main Street. In larger markets, a block off the main drag is still a prime location. In Greenville’s still very Main Street-focused downtown, that can present a challenge for new businesses, and Griffin is well aware of the issue.
Among other changes to grow the customer base and improve the customer experience, the Greenville location will soon begin offering more freshly made grab-and-go items to reduce wait times for the busy lunch crowd. Griffin says the company also is taking a look at suppliers and vendors to be sure the quality of the sourced products meets company standards. During the transition, quality lapsed in some areas, and he and his team are dedicated to reversing that, he says.
The goal is to source locally as much as possible. And when that’s not possible, the quality still must be exceptional, Griffin says.
With the original Charleston location as the model, Caviar & Bananas plans to push forward as it enters new markets, such as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Greenville will have a key role in that success as the proving ground for kitchen staff and management.
“Greenville is a community that fits us, and we believe it will be successful,” Griffin says. “It’s a great place to grow and develop future leaders. Greenville will help us as a company with bench strength.”