With a culinary scene growing as quickly as Savannah’s has been the last two to three years, it should surprise no one to hear that award-winning chefs are looking to bring award-winning restaurants to the Hostess City. The latest to trend in that department is Husk, celebrity chef Sean Brock’s signature restaurant.
It’s been long rumored, but now we have an opening day. Husk will open for business in Savannah on Dec. 4.
“We are very excited about this. What a vibrant city and a wonderful part of the South,” said David Howard, president of the Neighborhood Dining Group, which in addition to its Husk properties, owns several other restaurants across the South.
The renovated property at 12 W. Oglethorpe St. in the heart of downtown will be Husk’s largest property to date.
“Yes, it is the largest and most spectacular Husk yet,” said Sean Brock, executive chef and partner at NDG. The menu features hyper-local ingredients and seeks to expand on the deepest rooted and historic influences on food in the area.
“The foods of Charleston are very, very different than the foods of Savannah,” Howard says.
The rebuild of the 10,000-square-foot, three-story restaurant has been going on for the better part of three years.
“We salvaged as much as we could,” said Michael Wakely, the building’s owner and contractor in charge of the project. “Everything that could be saved was used to recreate the rest of the detail in the building. A lot of it made by hand to match as closely as possible.”
The price tag on the work being done? “We are looking at around $3 million,” Wakely says.
The building was home to Savannah’s Elks Lodge from 1908-78 until that group moved to the city’s Southside. A fire gutted the building in the fall of 2009. It then sat in disrepair until this project came along to revitalize the building as well as the city block, really, between Bull and Whitaker streets.
“Just like Charleston, we wanted to embrace the historic nature of the building,” Howard said. “It’s not easy.”
Not at all, as Husk’s kitchen will sit on the ground floor of the building, visible immediately to all who walk through the front door.
“This will be our main hub of activity,” Howard said during a walk-through last week. “We want it to be on full display.”
Dining rooms on the first floor will flank the kitchen space. The second floor features more dining space but also what promises to be a signature section of the building. A 16-foot ceiling “main hall” will serve as Husk’s only bar.
“At night we will offer a full menu in here,” Howard says of the bar area. “During the day we are still sorting through what offerings we will have.”
The bar area will feature a 14-foot raw bar, booths along the walls and modern artwork on loan from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Dining capacity figures to hover around 230 seats, with a third-floor space for private events.
Howard tells me they plan on hiring roughly 75 people to staff the space.
“We received well over 100 resumes for our general manager position,” he says. “That interview process is extensive and rigorous. For example, an assistant manager will realistically go through 12 to 15 hours of interviews.
“We aren’t looking at it like we are from Charleston and this is what we are doing. We are hoping to find someone that understands our philosophy and also has the integrity to continue Sean’s work when he’s not here.”
To that end, Tyler Williams has been named chef de cuisine at Husk Savannah. Most recently, Williams was at Woodfire Grill in Atlanta. Brock had experience with Williams’ style as a dining guest.
“I feel like I didn’t even have to interview him. Of course, we did. But he’s the perfect fit,” Brock said.
The standard for the brand is set. Husk was named Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit Magazine in 2011 and is regularly considered among the best in the South.
Work continues on the space. It is expected to be turned over to restaurant staff for a three-week training period and other details to sort out by early October, giving all parties involved roughly 60 days to prepare for opening day.
Opening date: Dec. 4
Address: 12 W. Oglethorpe St.