A French restaurant is coming to Columbia. Finally.
Restaurateur Sean Moore, who brought the Five Guys Burger & Fries chain to South Carolina 12 years ago, is opening a brasserie in the old Columbia Fire Department Headquarters building at the corner of Senate and Park streets in the Vista.
Moore, who sold the 12 Five Guys franchises (seven in Charleston, five in Columbia) in December, is also opening the BLD Diner in the old Hooligan’s location in Trenholm Plaza in Forest Acres.
“I’m excited to get back into my first love, full service restaurants,” the Virginia Beach, Va., native said.
Moore describes the as-yet-unnamed restaurant in the fire station as “nice, but affordable.”
“It’s going to be traditional French in the vein of Rue du Jean in Charleston,” he said. “It’s not going to be high dollar French. It’s a good price point for French food.”
The restaurant will be the first to serve exclusively French cuisine in Columbia in about two decades. Columbia chef Kristian Niemi is also planning a French-inspired restaurant for the Brookland mixed-use development being built in West Columbia overlooking the Congaree River.
“I talked to a lot friends in Columbia, and almost to a person they said there was no French food,” Moore said, noting that local “Best Of” lists don’t even include the cuisine in their tabulations.
People want independent restaurants. It’s a market that hasn’t been tapped 100 percent. Columbia is ready.
In addition to the restaurant, Moore is also leasing the 7,000-square-foot second floor of the circa 1950 fire headquarters as an event space. The second floor of the building, which closed in the mid-1990s, also has a new 1,000-square-foot outdoor patio deck.
The fire station, with its distinctive training tower, is being renovated by Virginia Beach investor and developer Jon Wheeler. Wheeler took on the project after seeing the building lay vacant for years as he came to visit his daughter, Paige, who attended the University of South Carolina on a volleyball scholarship.
“I’ve been staring at (the fire station) for years,” said Moore, whose Vista Five Guys is located a half block away. “It’s just an amazing building. It has the feel – character, history, charm. It’s got all three of those things.”
The French restaurant will take up the first three bays of the station. Kao Thai Cuisine, a sister restaurant to Tamarind in Asheville N.C., has also been announced for the space. There is room for another restaurant in the station, Moore said, but parking restrictions would limit the space to office or retail uses.
Moore said his new BLD Diner – a traditional American diner serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, hence the name – should open in Trenholm Plaza in April. The French bistro is targeted for August or September.
Moore said he located a Columbia resident whose father served as chief at the headquarters. As a result, they have a large collection of photos of the building and other documents when it was a working station.
“We’ve got the whole dossier,” he said. “They’re so awesome. They run the gamut from the 1950s to the ’90s.”
Moore, who eventually moved from Columbia to Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, said he chose to build the two restaurants in the Capital City rather than the Holy City because of Columbia’s growing restaurant scene.
“A lot of stuff is jumping from Charleston to Greenville and Nashville,” he said. “I lived in Columbia for years, and people want independent restaurants. It’s a market that hasn’t been tapped 100 percent. Columbia is ready.”