Steve Palmer started his restaurant career washing dishes at a chain of Chinese restaurants in Atlanta in the early 1980s. Today, as managing partner of the Indigo Road Restaurant Group, Palmer has built a small restaurant empire in Charleston that includes nationally recognized Macintosh, Oak Steakhouse and O-Ku.
At the end of this month, Palmer will open his group’s first restaurant outside of Charleston on Columbia’s Main Street in the midst of a revitalization that is pumping new life into that corridor. The Oak Table will serve a mix of fresh seafood and steakhouse classics for lunch and dinner at 1221 Main St., when it opens Sept. 28.
The restaurant – on the ground level of the Main & Gervais building – could be another knot in the attempt to knit together the emerging Main Street corridor with the nearby bustling Vista entertainment district.
“There seems to be this food movement that’s going on in Columbia, and that’s exciting,” Palmer said. “I love a challenge.”
At first, Palmer wasn’t sure about moving into the Capital City. “Growth for the sake of growth can be a little dangerous,” he said.
He credits the Edens development company, also located in the Main & Gervais building, with bringing his restaurant here. “They really sold me on this space, on Columbia.”
Palmer said that when he and his team first visited the space – and saw its view of the State House – he knew he had found his spot. “We all walked into the building and went, ‘Wow, I get it now.’ ”
The final piece fell into place when his trusted chef at Oak Steakhouse agreed to move to Columbia. Joseph Jacobson, who was chef de cuisine at Oak in Charleston, will be the executive chef of The Oak Table. The Charleston native is a University of South Carolina graduate.
Palmer, who says he has a “heart for hospitality,” will split his time between Columbia and Charleston as he gets the eatery up and running. “I still love to run food, bus your table and talk to you about a bottle of wine,” he said.
The restaurant will be outfitted with wood from a pre-Civil War Upstate log cabin – wood that will extend from the solid oak door and trim around the open window between the dining room and kitchen to the tabletops and bar.
The restaurant’s outer wall will be solid glass so patrons, sitting at the bar and at the tables behind it, can look out onto the State House grounds.
The restaurant will seat 90 inside and 30 in an outdoor courtyard. It also has a private dining room that seats 20 and can used for business meetings or social affairs.
The menu will change daily, but it will focus on fish caught off the state’s coast and steakhouse classics made using beef from S.C. ranchers. The restaurant also will sell its famous whole fried lobster and The Mac burger, invented at its Macintosh restaurant and named one of Carolina’s best burgers by Southern Living magazine in May.
Prices will average about $12 for the typical lunch or Sunday brunch. Most dinner entrees will range from $20 to $28. A bar menu will be served all day.
Most of Main Street’s retail development is taking place in the 1500 and 1600 blocks surrounding Mast General Store, a catalyst for growth that opened more than a year ago.
The Oak Table’s opening, paired with the recent opening of nearby Cola’s restaurant, “really does enhance that bridge, if you will, between the Vista and Main Street,” said Matt Kennell, executive director of the City Center Partnership, which works to foster growth in the areas around Main Street.
“It’s creating a pretty vibrant district,” he said.