N. CHS Reynolds Ave. Restaurant Corridor Grows
A large-scale redevelopment on the former Navy base is taking shape nearly two years after plans for more than 1.2 million square feet of offices, homes, shops and restaurants were first detailed.
Covering about 70 acres on and adjacent to the base, the Navy Yard Charleston redevelopment aims to repurpose multiple historic buildings while also constructing new ones, with housing, shopping and destination entertainment as part of the plan. The private development is happening just as the city of North Charleston pursues sweeping redevelopment plans of its own on or near the old footprint.
Though just one independent restaurant is currently serving customers on the base — MOMO, located at the foot of Riverfront Park — a handful of others have recently popped up within eyeshot of this future development.
“The development is the reason I believe the three of us are here,” said Maya del Sol Kitchen owner Raul Sanchez.
Less than a half-mile away from Sanchez’ Mexican restaurant sits longer tenured local favorite Caribbean Delight, along with Daddy’s Girls Bakery, the newly renovated Starlight Motor Inn and the future site of King BBQ, the highly anticipated Chinese and North Carolina inspired barbecue restaurant from Jackrabbit Filly owners Shuai and Corrie Wang.
Though these destinations cover a small footprint in an area earmarked for massive mixed-use development, they got in on the ground floor of what could soon become a bustling dining and drinking destination.
Getting there first
Longtime Charleston residents remember the days when dining options were sparse on King Street north of Calhoun Street, with the exception of now-shuttered Thai restaurant Basil. But once more eateries came to the area, apartment complexes, retail stores and large employers like Greystar followed.
Two decades later, restaurants have pushed farther north beyond Line Street, with Leon’s Oyster Shop, Maison and Rodney Scott’s BBQ bringing large crowds to Upper King Street, proving there is an appetite for a diverse group of dining venues across the peninsula.
Development can have consequences for the surrounding communities. Property values have in recent years skyrocketed north of Calhoun Street, as several neighborhoods, once predominantly Black, are attracting more and more students, White professionals, investors and developers.
The Charleston peninsula’s Black population hit a 100-year high in 1960 and has been falling ever since, according to Census figures. Between 2010 and 2020, about 5,000 Black residents left the peninsula.
In North Charleston, Liberty Hill, a predominantly African American community that was established by former enslaved people shortly after the Civil War, sits adjacent to Park Circle, which has in the last decade been targeted by developers. Liberty Hill residents have raised concerns about the threat of gentrification in the neighborhood as home prices in Park Circle have skyrocketed in recent years.
Rising real estate prices can also push out small independent restaurants when their leases expire, part of the reason why King Street’s main entertainment district between Calhoun and Spring streets is now dominated by powerful restaurant groups and out-of-town players. With most restaurants signing five- to 10-year leases, this shifting dynamic can take more time to develop than the housing market.
Even if restaurants surrounding the Navy base are faced with rising lease payments in the next decade, Sanchez of Maya del Sol says he’ll be retired by then. With three years left on a five-year lease at 1813 Reynolds Ave., Suite B, Sanchez will likely stick around for one more four- or five-year term before packing up his professional chef’s knives.
Locals in the know visit Maya del Sol for its multi-course evening tasting menu featuring an array of dishes, including old family recipes, that don’t fit into the expected format for a Mexican restaurant. With Sanchez and just one other chef leading the scratch kitchen, Maya del Sol is a neighborhood restaurant through and through, and operating in this corner of North Charleston allows Sanchez to cater to a local crowd.
Like Maya del Sol, Rebel Taqueria has benefitted from the local following it garnered during its food truck days. In 2020, the restaurant took over the space previously occupied by The CODfather, which relocated to North Charleston and added a second location in Summerville. Two years after opening, Rebel Taqueria’s ownership expanded, adding seating to meet a growing demand for the three things Rebel has been known for since its food truck days: tacos, tequila and cold beer.
“(We opened) with the expectation that the neighborhood was going to start off pretty slow. There’s not a lot of housing right around there,” said Lewis Kesaris, chef and owner of Rebel Taqueria. “Getting in there early was our plan, hopefully helping the neighborhood grow around us.”
With flavor-filled fare served in a relaxed environment, Rebel Taqueria is well positioned to handle the neighborhood’s growth. King BBQ, set to open this spring at 2029 Carver Ave., steps away from Reynolds Avenue, is another place that will cater to residents of the redeveloped land on and around the Navy base’s old footprint.
‘We’re a scrappy bunch’
King BBQ’s menu will be unlike other barbecue restaurants in the Lowcountry, with roasted and smoked meats paired with sides that riff on classics; German potato salad and North Carolina red slaw, for instance. It will be a dining destination in and of itself, drawing more attention to the neighborhood.
Developer and president emeritus of the Reynolds Avenue Area Merchants Association Ed Sutton, an Air Force veteran, owns several buildings in the Reynolds Avenue corridor, including the future King BBQ site.
The area has the history to back its future life as a dining district, Sutton said. When the Navy base was active, Reynolds Avenue and the surrounding streets were where soldiers went to eat and drink. Sutton has seen a resurgence of interest in the area among individuals, mainly locals, who believe they can help spur manageable growth.
“We’re a scrappy bunch. We’re upstarts,” said Sutton, discussing those who are committing to redeveloping the area while ensuring it keeps its character. “That’s kind of what the area lends itself to.”
The newest star shining bright over Reynolds and Rivers avenues is the Starlight Motor Inn, a 62-year-old property that underwent an extensive restoration effort by business partners Ham Morrison and Walker Lamond. The renovated hotel, which earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020, is now open to the public.
“It’s got a lot of soul and it’s a pretty neat community. Reynolds Avenue is a pretty cool commercial strip,” Morrison said. “It’s got a neighborhood feel, which sets it apart.”
With pink stucco walls, decorative brick and a new marquee sign topped with a star, the Starlight Motor Inn features 51 retro vintage-style guest rooms, a pool and cocktail lounge, with the possibility of a restaurant in the future. Upstairs, the longtime cocktail lounge called the Burgundy Lounge has been brought back to life, complete with a bar and card tables.
The renovated inn fits with existing restaurants in the Reynolds Avenue corridor. In fact, it’s exactly the type of development Sutton envisions surrounding the high-rise buildings earmarked for the old Navy base.
Food & Dining Editor