Walied Sanie and James Baldwin envisioned their latest culinary offering, which has been more than a year in the making, as something higher-end yet approachable and with a focus on wood-fired and smoked entrees.
The business partners, who also own Social 52 in the Fan, felt there was an opening for such a restaurant experience outside the city limit, and chose a 4,000-square-foot space at 13451 Hull Street Road in Chesterfield’s Swift Creek Place shopping center to give it a go. They planned to open the restaurant, Charred, on March 16.
“People feel like they have to drive into the city for a quality restaurant experience. We brought that into the county,” Baldwin said.
But then, days before they were set to open, the coronavirus pandemic threw the restaurateurs a curveball. Charred found itself burned by the virus shutdown.
Stuck with an upscale dining experience without an open dining room, they quickly pivoted to a takeout model with a menu to match. Its initial employee head count of 40 was trimmed to a skilled skeleton crew.
“We had to sit there and tell the team that put out some of the most amazing food I’ve ever seen that they were all out of the job. It was one of the toughest things we’ve ever had to do,” Baldwin said. “We decided we were going to buckle down and see how we could flip this.”
Sanie said their team of managers came together quickly to map out a new menu and reimagine the restaurant in a matter of days. They re-thought portions, prices and items to create something with a focus on family-style meals they bet would be desired by people marooned at home but that didn’t stray far from the original vision Charred intends to return to once the conditions are right.
Sanie cited a spaghetti-and-meatball meal for four that was born out of a meatball appetizer. The menu also features pizzas and sandwiches. The restaurant is selling bottles of wine, bags of house-made pasta and loaves of bread, too.
“It’s that game of figuring out what will the market handle financially,” Baldwin said.
Though Sanie and Baldwin initially whittled down the staff to four managers, they were able to bring on three hourly employees and plan to increase hourly employees to five or six this week.
Response from customers has been good so far, and guests had been excited to see the restaurant open, Sanie said.
“We got kind of smacked. We were pleasantly surprised,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of love from the community.”
Baldwin said the restaurant isn’t making money so much as covering its payroll in its bid to keep at least some employees in paychecks. Baldwin said landlords Connie and Kevin Nielsen have been accommodating and the restaurant hoped to ride out the pandemic and open more fully in the future.
Social 52 likewise has been operating on a takeout-only model. Sanie and Baldwin plan to open another Charred location in Hanover County, though an anticipated opening day has been pushed to spring 2021.