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15 Minutes with Michael Shemtov

15 Minutes with Michael Shemtov
May 2016
From coffee and juice at The Daily to sandwiches and late-night eats at Butcher & Bee, business whiz kid-turned-restaurateur Michael Shemtov is behind it all. We spoke with him to learn about Workshop Charleston—his new venture in the Pacific Box & Crate development

CM: What are some of your plans for Workshop Charleston?
MS: I envision a fancy food court, full of vendors that share adjoining spaces. Part of my plan is to incubate new restaurant concepts and give people a space to test out ideas. It takes an extremely long time to open a restaurant: you might sign a lease, but there are still many more months of construction and city approvals. So I want an upcoming company, perhaps during its construction phase, to be able to rent space at Workshop to develop talent or perfect its menu. There are also plenty of chefs who have ideas for restaurants, but don’t follow through because of the commitment. I’d like to give them a temporary space to set up shop, too.

CM: There seems to be a connection to the recent pop-ups at The Daily and chef takeovers at Butcher & Bee.
MS: Pop-ups are nothing new; we’ve been hosting guest chefs since 2011. But it’s a good preview of what will happen at Workshop Charleston. I like helping other entrepreneurs develop their businesses.

CM: As someone who has made a career in F&B, how did food factor into your life as a kid?
MS: I was born in Israel and moved to Atlanta when I was 10. The Jewish holidays are marked with traditions surrounding food. It’s part of the culture; eating is celebrated. I have very specific memories of my house on Saturday mornings, beginning with my dad fixing huge Rocky-style breakfasts. My dad loved to cook and eat; it was nothing to drive half an hour or more to go to a specific restaurant across town.

CM: Do you have a culinary degree?
MS: I got a business administration degree from College of Charleston. I went where the scholarship dollars brought me. I came in as a sophomore (thanks to advanced high school classes) and spent my senior year doing independent studies and writing a business plan for opening a Mellow Mushroom on King Street.

CM: So what inspired you to get into the restaurant world, and why has that interest stuck?
MS: I like things that have elements of risk, but that are also controllable, like gambling, trading stocks—and opening restaurants. They all share a common theme of calculated risk.

CM: Since Butcher & Bee’s second location opened in Nashville this past December, do you spend a lot of time traveling the Southeast?
MS: I used to travel a lot more, but I don’t as much as one might think. In a typical week, I’m in Charleston on Mondays and Tuesdays, working until midnight or 1 a.m., catching up on e-mails. If I do travel, I’ll go midweek, so I’m back here with my wife and son by Thursday and the weekend. I spend most of my time working in the restaurants, floating between The Daily and Butcher & Bee; taking meetings; and working on the line when it’s busy or if we’re down staff. I love being a host and welcoming guests the most, but I find cooking on the line exhilarating.

CM: What’s it like straddling roles in both the front and back of the house?
MS: Well, I can’t pretend I’m a chef—I could never use that moniker to describe myself. But I am passionate about food, and I think I’m a good line cook. I grew up on the line at Outback when I was a teenager and at J. Bistro in Mount Pleasant while at CofC.

CM: What’s the best thing about Charleston’s food scene?
MS: The way people in the industry work together, help promote one another, and build each other up. Everyone here speaks positively, even about their competition. It’s impressive, and outsiders take notice.