As COVID-19 brought Charleston’s world-renowned restaurant scene to a grinding halt back in March, local diners started to get anxious. Living in one of the most foodie-friendly cities in the country tends to spoil you a bit. Menus featuring seasonal produce from nearby farms or seafood caught from local waterways abound around these parts, as does a well-off eating community that’s happy to shell out for expertly curated meals many nights a month. (Central to my personal MegaMillions fantasy is being driven to a different Charleston restaurant every night of the week. And maybe lunch too.) But under the impacts of COVID, even Charleston’s most frequent eaters-out were going to have to fire up their own stoves and make do with homemade meals. The pandemic would later postpone opening days for the Charleston-area farmer’s markets, limiting customer access to locally grown & produced goods.
Sensing the desperate need for a pivot – both to keep the coffers full and keep Charleston eaters flush with local delights – the enterprising folk of our F&B community didn’t hesitate to jump on the problem with a bushel of new delivery options for home-bound diners.
Local cottage food businesses, armed with the agility that comes with running a small-scale operation, were able to adapt most rapidly. Counter Cheese Caves, husband and wife purveyors of Southern-made cheeses, began offering its Porch Picnic delivery service in late March. Customers could receive a curated pairing of two quarter pound wedges of cheese plus a bottle of vino from local wine shop Edmund’s Oast, delivered right to their doorstep. Void Baking Co., the brainchild of freshly-unemployed baker Colin Perkinson, began life as an Instagram account filled with sultry crumb shots of handmade loaves. On April 1st, Void Baking put it’s first menu for order up on Instagram, featuring the levains, focaccias , and insanely good brownies for which Colin is now foodie famous. He hand-delivers orders with the help of his girlfriend, sporting a bandanna and driving a car full of baked delights, like some kind of hip, youthful bread fairy. Baguette Magic, a small specialty bakery in James Island, also jumped on the delivery pivot early, debuting its Bag-ettes in late March. Filled with locally-sourced dairy, eggs, meat and veg, in addition to Baguette Magic’s own baked goods, the Bag-ettes are delivered weekly, and they’ve been popular. So much so that Baguette Magic recently debuted a Beach Bag-ette, featuring a small picnic of sammies, fruit, and pasta salad, designed for customers driving out to Folly for some socially-distanced relaxing on the sand.
Local restaurants eventually caught on the delivery game as well. Basic Kitchen – known for it’s healthy-but-delicious menu and breezy aesthetic – launched its Basic Box on May 1st. Featuring a rainbow of veg-forward dishes and meal kits alongside pressed juices and vegan condiments, the Basic Box has sold out repeatedly since it’s launch. Butcher & Bee has been the latest to get in on the delivery game, but considering that owner Michael Shemtov was plenty busy early in the shutdown with his nationally-recognized Pay-It-Forward program, in which diners could purchase a bag of local groceries for pickup while also buying a bag for a furloughed F&B employee, we can cut him some slack for showing up late to a trend. Butcher & Bee launched The Farmbox on May 30th, and alongside the standard local bounty, it includes locally-made spices and condiments like Red Clay Hot Sauce and Bull’s Bay Salt, and arrives packaged in an IG-worthy wooden crate.
Outside of the pivot, delivery services that specialized in local produce prior to COVID have seen themselves awash in new customers. Community Supported Grocery is one of these; not quite a CSA, but a way for us city-folk to access the seasonal specialties available on Lowcountry farms, without leaving our homes. Community Supported Grocery’s weekly delivery includes whatever’s best on the farm, which presents a fun challenge to the home cook who tends to gravitate to the same items at the grocery store month after month. Deliveries often include an unexpected surprise, like the mini-jar of Burnt & Salty’s Coconut Sukka that showed up in my bag this week.
Whether this wealth of new delivery options for Charlestonians will persist in a post-COVID world remains to be seen. Although we miss our days of carefree restaurant dining, many folks have gotten used to seeing fine cheeses, produce, and baked goods appear on their doorstep week after week, and are happy to pay for one less trip to the store. If you want your own look at our beautiful SC produce and local specialties, without having to sign up for a delivery box, we recommend you check out our Farm-to-Table experience – a three hour look at the best seasonal picks every Saturday, alongside a local chef. In the meantime, we can’t help but admire the genius of our local F&B talent in turning lemons into locally-sourced, fresh-squeezed, and hand-delivered lemonade.