Butcher & Bee restaurant of North Carolina and Tennessee is abuzz with creativity and renewal taking it far afield from its origins as a gourmet sandwich restaurant and into full flower as a dining concept hailed by patrons and James Beard judges alike.
Founded in 2011 by restauranteur Michel Shemtov, the original Butcher & Bee restaurant in Charleston, N.C. flourished in an off-the-beaten-path location as a wellspring for sandwiches so perfect, so satisfying that he likened them to gourmet meals tucked between two slices of mouthwatering bread.
“The notion was simple,” Shemtov writes in his website’s introduction.
“Perfect all the ingredients — the proteins, cheeses, veggies, bread—and craft sandwiches with quality usually reserved for fine dining.”
And it worked! The North Carolina location in an industrial area of Charleston was set in an atmosphere Charleston Magazine described as the ultimate urban café mixed with rough-hewn charm. And the food was a unique adventure; pulling in diners exploring sandwich creations, with ingredients sourced from local farmers and butchers.
“Every day brings creative reinventions of the traditional sandwich, including unusual pairings and preparations that complete the experience with flavorful depth,” wrote reporter Patrica Agnew of Charleston Magazine.
The Butcher & Bee spread its wings to take in more territory when it opened a second location in Nashville, Tenn. with the partnership of co-founder Jake Mogelson.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Jake Mogelson discusses the success and expansion of the brand, which recently received special praise from the James Beard judges, who named Butcher & Bee a finalist in the Outstanding Restaurant category for its consistency and excellence.
Boxerbrand: How did Butcher & Bee go from sandwiches to gourmet?
Jake: “We transformed from a sandwich shop into the restaurant we are today due to us opening in Nashville. Once we were in Nashville, we wanted to become what the neighborhood was craving— a full-service neighborhood restaurant. We’ve continued to evolve and grow with what we feel is best suited for the neighborhood and city; adding elements like a larger patio and a private event space.”
Boxerbrand: Please tell me about the experience at Butcher & Bee.
Jake: If you look at the Trip Advisor reviews, it gives you a glimpse of the experience. We’re lauded for creating an atmosphere that inspires diners to be a little adventurous. We’ve been called family friendly but modern, with great food that invites you to share plates with your friends.
One thing we do is serve a lot of vegetarian food that’s so good nobody’s aware it’s meatless. We build bold flavors that need to rely on fat content to be delicious. (did he say “need” or “don’t need” ?
Another popular experience is our Chef’s Choice menu. About 40 percent of our guests go for our prix fix, and it’s something our servers are trained to highlight and discuss and it’s something we’re known for. It can be a wonderful experience to hand over the control of your meal to the chef.
Boxerbrand: How does the name Butcher & Bee represent you?
Jake: The name originally represented the elements of the sandwich, with the butcher representing all the meat, and the bee representing the pollination of the grains that go into the bread. At the time the first Butcher & Bee opened, the farm-to-table concept was still reserved for fine dining, and we wanted to show that the commitment to wholesome, locally sourced ingredients could also be present in the humble sandwich.
Boxerbrand: What is your most popular menu item?
Jake: Our avocado crispy rice is one of our most popular dishes. It has been on the menu for a long time, and customer demand for it keeps it on the menu. We’re also doing a steak marinated in harissa with crispy chickpeas and preserved lemons, and we’re also doing a grilled cauliflower dish with a garlic toum (sp?) sauce, which is an aioli without the oil.
Boxerbrand: What is the “grandma chic” vibe at Butcher & Bee about?
Jake: When we converted a mattress store into the restaurant, we added a lot of texture and fabrics. The place is overgrown with plants, and there’s a terracotta element with black and white checkered tile and outside on our guest patio we have a canopy of vintage umbrellas; a melody of twinkle, fairy and patio lights.
My background before hospitality was in creative design, so I’ve paid a lot of attention to minute details, like our plateware and cutlery. We have an eclectic mix of plateware that got started by accident when one of the employees got married, and we had a celebration which involved everyone bringing in their own plates from home. This inspired us to comb through estate sales and Goodwill for found plateware to use as our table settings, and it’s really quite beautiful and unique.
Boxerbrand: What makes you optimistic about the future of hospitality?
Jake: Coming out of the pandemic, I think we’re better equipped to understand our customers, and how we fit into our communities. In Nashville, we fell in love with the city, with its great mix of creativity, the music industry and other arts. We’re located in East Nashville, which is a younger, grittier neighborhood that’s more up and coming. And there’s a vibrancy and demand for hospitality, in both Nashville and Charleston, that makes me optimistic about our future. Our customer is everybody, and we’ve been constantly surprised by the range of customers we get. — Butcher & Bee uses Boxerbrand’s Splash menu cover line in its table presentation. Thank you!