COLUMBIA, SC — When it first opened more than two decades ago, Motor Supply Company Bistro was the place to be.
Danny DeVito had eaten there. So had Dennis Hopper. And many from around the Midlands were in awe of the quirky little restaurant tucked into a side alley off Gervais Street with the equally unusual name.
“We were a real trendy place to be,” says owner Eddie Wales.
Wales, who started waiting tables at “Motor Supply” a few weeks after it opened in 1989, says, in many ways, both he and the restaurant grew up with the Vista.
“In the early days it was kind of wild,” he says laughing. “I wouldn’t call us irresponsible, but the restaurant and I are much more mature at this time.”
In those days, there were only a few eateries operating along the Gervais Street corridor, which, as Wales, 47, describes, “was just a place you drove through.”
But after a massive streetscaping of Gervais in the mid-1990s and the arrival of additional restaurants and nightspots after that, things began to pick up for the entertainment district.
After a few years away from Columbia, during which Wales’ wife, Tracy, attended veterinary school, the two returned.
“What I saw when we first came back is probably the second blossoming of the Vista,” he says. “Things really started to get brisk, and the business really started to make some money in those years.”
Gradually, as the Vista came into its own, so did the restaurant, which Wales bought from Eric Nord in 2000.
Now, Wales says the Vista is primed for yet another era of growth.
“It’s all kind of working together – downtown, the river area, Main Street, the university and Five Points,” he says.
In the meantime, the funky little restaurant, named after a 1930s-era neon sign found in its basement, continues to build its reputation as a top spot for fine dining. Wales says it’s been a “tremendous advantage” to be in the area.
“Especially with what’s happened in the past five years,” he says. “Before that you were really fighting for people to come down and see it as a destination. But now ... I feel very fortunate to be an established-brand business sitting right where we are. It reminds me of what Charleston is, now. ... And I think we’re heading that way.”