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15 Minutes With: Husband and wife Michael and Courtney Zentner combine talents for their culinary and event design company

15 Minutes With: Husband and wife Michael and Courtney Zentner combine talents for their culinary and event design company
July 2023

The Drifter regularly create bespoke dinner parties and art instillations with an emphasis on sourcing local

CM: How did y’all meet?
In my final month before graduating from design school in Boston, I was working as a hostess at Gaslight Brasserie Du Coin when Michael started as executive chef. That was 13 years ago, and we now have a five-year-old named Zoe and a 21-month-old named Luca! 

CM: When did you make the move to the Lowcountry? 
We’d always said if one of us got a job in Charleston we’d take it. In 2018, while I was on maternity leave with our daughter, Michael got an offer to be a culinary director. Within three weeks, we moved into a little bungalow near Hampton Park. The role eventually led him to The Charleston Grill to work alongside Chef Michelle Weaver as Chef de Cuisine.  

CM: What inspired you to combine your talents and found The Drifter? 
We have always wanted to work together and dreamt of a business where we could equally succeed on our own paths, while also complementing each other’s strengths. At the start of the pandemic, we started baking bread out of our house and delivering it via bike. During a time when there wasn’t a lot of human interaction, the intimacy of being with each other changed so dramatically. We took it very seriously, hoping it would continue to build and we would be able to do more. 
MZ: Courtney had put a message on the Wagener Terrace Facebook page [about the bread], and I got a text saying, “Come home and start baking immediately.” We sold 30 loaves in the first hour! 

CM: How did bread delivery turn into dinner parties? 
COVID could have ended in three weeks, but the longer it went on, the easier it was to not go back to work. It started with bread, then we added butter and whipped ricotta, then roasted chicken, and that turned into a fully prepared dinners. When we switched to doing dinner parties, Courtney would set the table beautifully, then I’d serve the food. In creating these dinners, we cook all the food, set all the tables, do the decorating; we handle everything. For a long time it was just the two of us; now we have a great team of eight full-time employees, plus three interns. 

CM: Beyond dinner parties, what other kinds of events do you host?
We try to mix it up if we can. There’s quite a bit of brand events, like openings for Sorelle and Veronica Beard. Some months are heavily focused on one single project, like a destination wedding, while others have a few larger events or a dozen smaller ones. We do installations at The Charleston Place year-round; Christmas there is one of our largest undertakings of the year. 

CM: Why is The Drifter such a hit?
There are a lot of beautiful homes here that people like to entertain in. We also source our own inventory locally, including vintage glassware, linen, candles, you name it.
MZ: People in Charleston are used to eating at really amazing restaurants. There’s a lot of great farms as well, plus the seafood is awesome, and that’s coming from someone who lived in Boston. With the long growing season, it’s easy to get different ingredients all the time, and I like to source them as close as possible.