New OriginalsMonday, November 30 2015

Brooks Reitz

Leon's, Saint Alban & the upcoming Little Jack's Tavern, Charleston, South Carolina

Why he's a New Original: With his keen eye for design, restaurateur Reitz has revitalized one section of King Street—an area that's a bit off the beaten path from the big-name restaurants in the more-popular-than-ever food city. His knack is in creating restaurant concepts that are distinct, friendly and serve the type of food people want to eat and places they want to hang out: oysters and fried chicken (Leon's), the ultimate coffeehouse (the currently relocating Saint Alban) and an old-school tavern (the upcoming Little Jack's). What original means to him: "Being original is looking inward and thinking about what it is that's going to make your restaurant interesting, and committing to that vision." The most exciting food development in Charleston right now: "The introduction of slightly more casual and affordable restaurants—where you can walk in, and the food is familiar, simple and fun." What should disappear from dining in 2016? "The intense, over-the-top celebration of the cult of the chef. I've come up and work with some insanely talented chefs, and I realize how important they are, but I'd love to see the emphasis shift back to what the diner wants."

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That's how many burgers New Original Brooks Reitz estimates he's eaten as research for his upcoming Charleston, South Carolina, restaurant, Little Jack's Tavern, slated to open in early 2016.

His tally includes versions from iconic New York City spots including JG Melon and P.J. Clarke's (watch the video above to see Reitz and his business partner, Tim Mink, plow through them), as well as places in Chicago (Au Cheval), San Francisco (Zuni Café) and more.

"Right now, we're leaning toward a burger that's thicker than Shake Shack but thinner than The Spotted Pig, for those who know New York burgers," Reitz says.

Little Jack's will join Reitz and Mink's restaurant Leon's Oyster Shop in a part of north King Street that's just recently come to life with more businesses moving into the mostly residential neighborhood. Much like the fried chicken and oysters served at Leon's, Little Jack's isn't meant to break any culinary molds but will offer good, honest food in a stylish setting.

"I've always been drawn to places that aren't considered 'cool' unless you're 70 years old," Reitz says. "Places that feel timeless and classic."

At Little Jack's, that means a "hamburger sandwich" with Russian dressing, a house chopped salad, bar steaks with fries, pastrami on marbled rye and properly made Manhattans, sidecars and martinis—nothing newfangled, nothing unusual.

In order to create a complete vision for the restaurant, the duo even came up with a fictional backstory for its owner: He was a scrawny boxer who left New York City in 1940 to open a bar on the beach. You'll see it in details like the typeface on the menu and logo, modeled after 1940s boxing posters. Adding to the space's classic feel are a high-gloss oil-based paint job, wainscoting, tufted leather booths, antiques like an American flag with 38 stars and, of course, checkered tablecloths.

And while he's not out to serve cutting-edge food or set any trends, Reitz does have some lofty goals for his latest project.

"Charleston is developing as a restaurant town, and every restaurant town has to have that middle ground," Reitz says. "We're not setting out to be the best restaurant in Charleston, just the favorite."

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