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15 Minutes with Steve Palmer

15 Minutes with Steve Palmer
March 2015
We caught up with the managing partner of hospitality group The Indigo Road about his soon-to-debut Cigar Factory projects and that time he was a roadie for Guns N’ Roses

CM: You are a traveling fiend. In the past few weeks, where have you been?
SP: Atlanta, Asheville, and Miami

CM: Is that for work or play?
SP: A little bit of both. I have a hard time labeling dining out as “work,” but I’m always looking at what others are doing in terms of menus, interior design, and beverage programs. I try to be a student of what I do as a restaurateur.

CM: So you travel for inspiration.
SP: Absolutely. In terms of opening new restaurants for The Indigo Road, it’s a quest for what isn’t in Charleston that would work here. O’Ku was inspired by Nobu and Masa in New York. The Macintosh, a collaboration between chef Jeremiah Bacon and myself, nods to The Spotted Pig and Gramercy Tavern in New York. Indaco was based on A16 in San Francisco and Locanda Verde in New York. And so far, knock on a whole bunch of wood, what we’re doing here is working.

CM: Do you have an opening date for your ventures—Mercantile, a food hall; The Mash, a casual bar; and Cedar Room, an event space—coming soon to the Cigar Factory?
SP: We’re gunning for June 1.

CM: What excites you most about these three projects?
SP: I am both excited and nervous about Mercantile. I’ve never done a market before, so it’s a little outside my wheelhouse. But if we do it right, it will be both a great food hall where people have many different experiences and a central hub of the city’s discussion about food. You might buy a roast chicken to bring home to your family, take a cooking class, watch pasta being made, or chat with a farmer about his harvest. Aside from that, I’m really grateful that we can take part in bringing this old building back to life. Before the renovation, locals would drive by and say, “God, there could be something so cool there!” And hopefully now there will be.

CM: What do you love about the building?
SP: Its bones. There are these huge timbers. You just don’t see stuff like that anymore. Architect David Thompson did a nice job of not covering that up and not screwing it up. I personally feel a responsibility to preserve the heritage of the building. Before I got involved, I knew that cigars were made there, but I didn’t know it was once a cotton mill, or that Civil Rights strikes broke out there. The protest song “We Shall Overcome” was first sung there during a strike.

CM: What will surprise people about The Mash?
SP: We’ll have video games—retro stuff from the ’80s. Some of my colleagues are lobbying for Pac-Man. I’m lobbying for Defender. It will be a really fun, low-key place to hang out with canned beer, an indoor bocce court, and a jukebox.

CM:  Will you curate the jukebox?
SP: I hope so. I’m a music aficionado. I mean, I was a roadie in the ’80s with rock bands. I worked for Guns N’ Roses, and I had hair halfway down my back. I was quite a sight!

CM: Any good backstage stories?
SP: I’m not sure any of those stories are fit for print. Let’s just say that the party had to end someday and it was time to grow up. But luckily, I’m still doing something I love.