Ethnic 'mom and pop' eateries spreading love, good food in North Charleston
by Blakelyn Faia
There is one thing that Charleston doesn’t skimp out on, and that's its food.
The thing about Charleston's very deep sense of community is that it connects with its locals unlike any other, particularly within the restaurant industry.
"Mom and pop" businesses are all over the city, but most come from a long tradition of living in the South and adopting its traditional cuisine.
But there's a hidden world of local "mom and pop" ethnic restaurants in the heart of North Charleston that must be paid attention to.
A world where the connection between a delicious meal and the individuals who put their heart and soul into serving it provides a universal bond no matter the background.
First stop was The Hut, because nothing screams comfort in the South more than soul food.
“Everyone likes fried chicken,” said Terry Mims, who cooks and runs his business alongside his wife and three sisters.
Mims and his family are sharing recipes with the community that have been passed down through 10 generations.
Offering a variety of dishes including lima beans, collard greens, and red rice, they have it all.
Mims believes the biggest difference in his soul food with others is mainly the price.
“We do shrimp and grits and they do shrimp and grits, and the difference is about 30 dollars. It's the same shrimp, it's the same grits. If you're down there it's just 30 dollars more,” said Mims.
But this doesn't discourage him from continuing to pursue what he enjoys.
Mims believes that anything prepared from the heart is soul food.
“Well, everything we cook, we cook with love and we don’t put out any bad products. I hope that they realize that,” said Mims. “Good food cooked with love.”
For Mims, the most significant benefit of owning his small restaurant is the close-knit community.
“This job has its own rewards, the community has its own rewards,” said Mims.
Nestled on Northwoods Boulevard is Amici’s Italian Bistro.
When Jennifer (Amici) French moved to Charleston 14 years ago, she realized there was a lack of good Italian food here.
“The thing we hear when people leave is that ‘We will be back.’ So that is what you want to hear,” French said. "You can get them in the door but to have them come back, that’s the whole other thing.”
For the past eight years, French and her family have been serving Charleston the Italian food it so desperately craved. While building a cozy atmosphere where people can come in and feel like they are family.
“We greet every customer. I go to every table, every day. Talk to them, thank them,” said French. “I was going to name it La Familia for family, but then I said I was going to name it Amici, even though it is my last name. Amici means friends so it really has been friends that have come in here that have helped build this together.”
Those who come to Amici’s, come to enjoy a meal that replicates a home-cooked meal, and come back for it often. Jennifer expressed that the restaurant wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for her regulars, who have created a sense of community within her very own restaurant.
“We have a really close community like even during COVID-19, it was our regulars who really kept us going. Their names are on the back of the chairs,” said French. “They are here constantly.”
At Indian Bombay Bazar and Indian Restaurant, Clive Dvaz prioritizes cooking only his best.
“Every dish that goes out to your customer, they should be happy with the
food. If there is something unsatisfactory about the food, then it doesn’t go well with me. I personally take it as where did I go wrong?,” said Dvaz.
Dvaz and his family were one of the first ethnic restaurants on Rivers Avenue since 2010 when they first opened.
“Sometimes you can go to a big restaurant and eat something fancy and you say you like it but you never come back full. The customer should get more than their money's worth, it should feel that way,” said Dvaz. “We have to make a profit, and that's how we do business, but we also want them to feel satisfied.”
What has kept them thriving all this time is their commitment to putting the utmost care into every dish they create.
“The most important thing is to keep your customer happy,” said Dvaz.
He also believes the most important ingredient must come from within.
“Anyone can cook great food, but when you put love in the food, and cook it for your customers as you could eat it, that makes a difference,” said Dvaz.
Despite the diverse cultural backgrounds, these restaurants share the same desire to express love through food.
Chris Saxby and his friend D-Brown, are familiar faces during lunchtime at Caribbean Delight on Rivers Avenue.
“If you eat this food you're good for the day, might even need a nap,” said Brown.
As the room transformed from a handful of regulars sitting at the counter to a line stretching almost out the door, Brown emphasized the importance of sitting down and taking a look around the room.
“It's a mixed crowd,” said Saxby. “It doesn’t matter what your color is. If the food is good, you’re there.”
Looking around the room there is a booth of construction workers eating together on their lunch break. Some who live close by, making their routine order of oxtail with cabbage as they do every week. Others came alone, simply to treat themselves to a nice meal.
The majority haven’t had the chance to sit down and truly experience this.
These restaurants provide a unique sense of community, unlike anything else in Charleston.
Never will you feel more comfortable and embraced in a place where you are a newcomer.
Sitting down for a brief meal can quickly become a deep connection among people, all seeking a sense of unity despite our diverse backgrounds.
It's where the root of southern hospitality has yet to change or be forgotten.
As Mims and his family said, expect great food. Trust in Dvaz’s wish to leave satisfied. Also be prepared to be treated like family as they do at Amici’s.
And Brown was right. Afterward, you may need a nap.