Updated: May 24
The creation of Society Sandwich Bar and Social Cub is a story worth telling for several reasons. It is a story that should also be of interest to several specific groups.
This story is important for those who work in local government or economic development. If you actually make it to the end of this long winded tale you will have some level of understanding of how unlikely and difficult it is to develop a unique idea or concept in a downtown market.
For the people in commercial real estate and development you might be reminded of a deal you take a lot of personal pride in making happen. You might be reminded of a deal or client that you got way too personally invested in. You might also get a glimpse at what kind of ride you could be in for should you decide to take on the challenge of making someone's dream come true. Regardless of how it resonates with you at least some part of this story should.
Finally, for the people who dream of opening their own business one day, this is both an inspirational story and a cautionary tale.
For me, this is the story about Retail Development at its very best. Not because this kind of deal is the most profitable to me personally, far from it. But because it is truly a win on every front.
At its absolute best retail development is the literal brick and mortar creation of someone's dream, a dream worth sharing with the community. It is taking something empty and filling it with something fulfilling. It is the creation of something original and worthwhile that benefits both he creator and the consumer. This kind of project is truly a win on every level but it never comes easy.
Bringing Society to life took more time and effort than any other single project I have ever worked on. To be honest this idea should have been dead on arrival.
Cause Of Death?
Common Sense, Reality, A Global Pandemic. Pick One!
Despite all of that on May 3rd, 2021 the dream of Society finally became a reality. This is the story of how Society Sandwich Bar and Social Club was created.
Meet Jeremy Krauze the managing partner and creator of Society. If you have been involved in the service industry in Greenville, SC over the last seven or eight years you already know Jeremy.
I met Jeremy seven years ago while he was bartending and managing a small Mexican bar and restaurant which happened to be across the street from our office. Besides being a great bartender, and manager Jeremy was constantly designing logos, T-shirts, menus, and anything else he thought could look better.
Knowing that I was in commercial real estate and development he would always pick my brain about the details and minutia of opening a restaurant. Over time he laid out his idea for a bar and restaurant and slowly but surely his dream became my dream and the journey to making this idea a reality began in earnest.
A lot of hurdles lay in the way. A runaway retail real estate market in downtown Greenville was one big problem but the main issue was money, or more accurately the lack of it. In reality, Jeremy needed at least $1,000,000 to open the kind of concept he visualized and all he had was a decent wage from bartending.
This was a pipe dream. For anybody else, friend or client I would have sat them down and had a difficult but necessary conversation with them, a reality check about why I could not put any more time into trying to make this happen. But because this was now a vision I saw in full and wanted to see happen I decided to keep reality in check and chase the dream, so I went to work trying to make the impossible happen.
Luckily, I was not the only one who started to believe in Jeremy. There were several people interested in investing and this gave us the confidence to start looking at potential locations with a realistic level of confidence that we could pull together the finances we needed. I honestly cannot remember how many different spaces we looked at but one space, in particular stood out. We spent almost six months working towards a lease agreement. Meeting after meeting and hour after hour designing the layout, creating the menu, and everything else that goes into trying to create a concept that at the time did not exist in any other space. In the end none of the investors ever came to the table.
There was a long period of grieving for Jeremy. He had to face the fact that he did not have the money or credit necessary to make this kind of deal happen. He had also learned a hard but valuable lesson. People with money do not hand it out easily or cheaply.
"You Have To Have It To Make It."
This is a worn-out trope, but for Jeremy and almost everyone else who ever wanted to own their own business and do it right, this worn-out saying is the high brick wall you grind your dream to ashes against.
This is the point in most peoples lives that you give up on your dreams because life has just become to real. Jeremy was starring down the barrel of a future as an employee in the service industry. Most people would have either found a quick exit into a more stable career path or decided to stay in the industry and adopt all of the traps and trappings that long term service industry workers tend to fall into.
By this time Jeremy had moved on from the restaurant where I met him. He was now bartending at several different places, but he had also started a branded line of Hats and T-Shirts called the White Rabbit Supply Company. https://whiterabbitsupply.com/
This gave him an outlet for his design skills but I honestly think it gave him the ability to keep dreaming and keep moving forward. When it is all said and done the clothing business might be Jeremy's biggest success.
It is almost impossible to walk around downtown Greenville and not count at least 10 White Rabbit tees or hats. White Rabbit apparel and designs have almost become ubiquitous with Greenville's service industry staff and regulars.
Jeremy has brought those skills and creativity into play for Society. To say they have been a hit would be a massive understatement.
The T shirts, Hats and everything else was sold out in the first four days.
I cannot say why but neither one of us gave up on the idea. At least once every couple of months we would get together and talk about new ideas or what spaces might be coming on the market. This went on for almost a year until the summer of 2019 when an interesting possibility hit the market. It was the first thing we had seen that might be affordable and also came with most of the equipment which would save on a lot of the initial opening cost.
Charlie's Steak House had been a tradition in Greenville since it opened in 1921. They finally closed their doors in 2014. Shortly after closing, a 24-hour Dinner opened but was only open for six months before closing.
The space sat vacant but it was also not on the market. I was friends with someone who was related to the owner of the building and we started a dialogue. Jeremy started hunting for investors again and found someone serious about making this happen.
"God Punishes Us For What We Cannot Imagine."
If anyone could have imagined how historically insane 2020 would have been then God has very few surprises in store for them. The fact that the world came to a full stop for several months was what killed our latest hopes, so the dream died a pretty unique second death but a death non the less.
Jeremy was not idle during the shutdown however and started serious conversations with a great young chef, Chris Rosensteel. Chris refined our initial menu ideas into an amazingly creative menu that we knew would work and Jeremy never stopped improving the design and perfecting the vibe of the restaurant and bar.
If I am being honest, at this point I just did not see it happening anytime soon. I was never really in doubt that it would happen at some point, it just might be another five or ten years and it might be in a different form and I most likely would not have been involved.
Fast forward to Saturday, October 10th, 2020. I was in Clemson at the Clemson vs Miami football game and it was late that evening when I saw I had missed several calls from Jeremy. The voicemails were just short of panicked.
"I got the right investor, and we are ready to go but they are getting ready to sign a lease with someone else. This will only work in that one space. Please, make this happen....somehow."
I took a deep breath and called him back and said I would do my best but he had to know this was a long shot at this point.
I got on the phone with the owner that Sunday and they were all but settled on signing with someone else. We talked for a long time and I just kept putting this dream that was now a workable concept in front of them. It was the thing that swayed them away from the other tenant. All of those seemingly wasted hours spent perfecting a pipe dream, laying it out in a way that we could share it with other people had finally paid off.
We had the concept refined and defined. We had the menu set. We had taken Jeremy's dream and worked it to a point that it was all but real to anyone we showed it to. And just like anyone else who had a glimpse of what we had planned they wanted to see it become a reality. They decided to give us the deal.
Finally, we had made it happen, or so we thought.
Less than twenty-four hours after the landlord agreed to go with our concept Jeremy's investor decided to pull out.
As a side note, If you are getting the message that all of these potential investors are the bad guys in this story then you have the wrong message. Every one of them made the correct decision. If anyone ever asks you to invest in a start-up restaurant or bar you run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. There is an exception to every rule but for the most part, every one of these potential investors made the smart decision for them.
This should have been the final straw but I think at this point we had just gotten a bit immune to crushing disappointment. We had roughly 48 hours to accomplish what we had not been able to accomplish in almost three years. I.E find someone who could financially back this project...no big deal.
Player Three Has Entered The Game.
Jeremy and I sat in City Tavern that afternoon trying to figure out if anything could be done to save this deal. As usual Scott Woods, the owner of City Tavern was in his establishment working on something. So I called him over and laid out the situation for him and asked if he had any ideas or opinions.
If you have to ask Scott for his opinion it simply means that he has not had the chance to speak to you. If Scott speaks it is as an opinion.
It should be noted that if you ask Scott for his opinion on something you care about then you are putting your feelings in extreme danger. He is always brutally honest and even worse, he is usually right. If it comes to anything business related just delete the term usually.
After laying out the deal in detail to my shocked amazement, Scott said he wanted to do the deal. Two days later we signed the lease.
Scott has been one of my best friends and best clients for a very long time. I met Scott when he just moved to Greenville from Myrtle Beach and was a bartender at what was then Tassy's Tavern. Scott's situation when he started out and Jeremy's were very similar if you just looked at the two on paper. Both of them were very qualified to run and own a restaurant and bar and neither of them had the financial ability to do it.
The difference is that Scott has an innate ability to understand people and money on a very personnel level. Because of that Scott's success has never been in question.
Within two years of moving to Greenville and starting to work at Tassy's Tavern, he owned both the business and building. He is a force of nature in personality and reality but he was truly the last person I would have ever thought would make this deal happen.
I had talked with Scott about this deal several times over the years but never really saw him as a potential investor. In my mind, Scott was far too hands-on to let this be what Jeremy had envisioned. Scott was also far too practical to risk real money on an unproven concept. While Jeremy is not near as vocal or brash as Scott he has a quite stubborn streak when it comes to his ideas and creations. The term creative differences kept flashing neon in my head when I thought of these two being in a partnership and myself being in the middle of it.
I knew Scott would not back down from his commitment but I also knew he still had reservations and I imagine Scott lost more than a little sleep wondering what he had gotten himself into.
The next several months of actually building out the restaurant, finalizing the menu, hiring staff, and the hundred thousand other tiny things that go into opening a new business were exciting but also insanely stressful for everyone involved. Scott’s practical hands-on knowledge of all things restaurant-related paid massive dividends during this period, but true to his word he stayed pretty much hands-off when it came to the actual concept and operations.
This story would not be anywhere near complete without mentioning Colin Walker and Miguel Gonzalez. These two amazing guys have been Jeremy's closest friends and the three have worked together at several different bars and restaurants over the years. They have all built up a loyal customer base we were relying on to make Society a success. These two guys perhaps more than anyone else bet very heavily on Jeremy and his dream of Society. They committed hours upon never-ending hours during the six months it took to open Society without getting paid just to be a part of this project. Society would not have been complete without their enthusiasm, work and devotion to helping a friend achieve his goals.
Enough cannot be said about Chris Rosensteel, Society's Chef. As good as the menu looked and tasted in all of our test kitchen sessions, Scott and myself had some serious doubts that Chris would be able to pull off this menu on a daily basis. Jeremy however never wavered in his belief that Chris was going to be able to put out some legendary food at a high level and do it consistently.
Chris delivered in a huge way. I think the thing I am most impressed with when it comes to Chris is the kitchen staff he was able to bring together in the current labor shortage and how much respect and dignity he treats them with while also getting amazing production out of them.
The hours that Chris has put into that kitchen over the last four months is nothing short of legendary. He is there at 6 or 7 am helping with prep and he is still there at midnight helping with clean up or just hanging out and talking with customers. He has kept this up for weeks on end. I think we actually made him take a day off and he showed up anyway. As good as his food is, his calm professionalism and affability along with an insane work ethic are maybe the most impressive thing about Chef Chris Rosensteel.
It's very early to say that this will be a success much less a long-term success but the initial two weeks have been huge and the reviews have been great. Society feels just as unique and special in reality as it did in concept and that is perhaps the most amazing thing about this process.
Most people have a dream, a few people have a dream worth sharing and only the truly unique can make it a reality.
I got the chance to be a part of a great story and I the wanted the chance to tell it in full.
Thank you for taking the time to read it and hopefully it resonated with you in some positive way.
If you ever happen to be in Greenville, SC please stop by and be a part of the story too.
Society Sandwich Bar and Social Club
18. E Coffee St
Greenville, SC 29601