Here's why Husk Greenville remains closed, at least for now

Lillia Callum-Penso
Greenville News

To the question when Husk Greenville will reopen, David Howard has a simple answer.

“I don’t know.”

Howard is the president of Neighborhood Dining Group, which owns the four Husk locations in Greenville, Charleston, Nashville and Savannah, along with four other restaurants. “At this point, I don’t know.”

Husk was the first restaurant in Greenville to close its doors due to coronavirus, closing March 17, a day before Greenville Mayor Knox White ordered restaurants in the city close to dine-in service and before Gov. Henry McMaster ordered a statewide mandate.

The Neighborhood Dining Group announced Tuesday morning that effective immediately, the restaurant group would be temporarily closing all of its eight restaurants in South Carolina and Georgia, including Husk in Greenville.

Now, Husk is one of the last to reopen. The restaurant is among a handful that have not opened following the governor’s reversal of restrictions on restaurants in May.

“The state of South Carolina is struggling, Greenville County has its share of challenges,” Howard said. “I see no incentive for us to open right now.”

What will the Husk dining experience look like in a COVID-cautious world? In a world where QR codes and mobile ordering help limit interaction, where does a leisurely server guided two-hour meal fit? 

“For us, people come in for an experience,” said Jon Buck, executive chef of Husk Greenvi. “How much of that can go to the wayside before it is lost?”

He paused and then added.

“Or, how can we get more creative and figure out a way to do it in a different format?”

When Husk closed in March, Howard described the pain he felt at shutting his restaurants. He laid off 500 people, he told GreenvilleOnline then, but he called the move “a moral responsibility and an ethical responsibility to our staff and to our guests and to our communities to do the right thing.”

While some restaurants pivoted to takeout, delivery and curbside pickup, Husk did not.

Masks required for employees and diners

Four months later, Howard remains uncertain of what his industry is facing. The veteran has 30 years of experience but finds himself moving gingerly now.

Neighborhood Dining Group reopened Husk Charleston and Husk Nashville reopened last week, and so far, it’s been OK, Howard said.  

Changes include limiting number of diners, spacing tables, sanitation stations throughout the dining room, single-use menus and masked servers.

NDG also has required guests to wear masks. Diners must wear them upon entering the restaurant and can take them off when they get to their table, Howard said.

“We are doing everything in our power to create an environment that guests want to visit and an environment that is as safe as we can make it for our staff,” Howard said.

The strain of now poses challenges, but it also pushes innovation, and that is how Buck is looking at the new restaurant reality.

The chef is taking it one step at a time. He has been busy working on a menu he says is simpler, and translatable to both a takeout and a dine-in format. Dishes may have three components versus five or six, he added, but will still speak to the things Husk stands for – fresh, local, food that is familiar but new.

Buck has been using his time away from Husk to plan, to conceptualize and to cook.

The Husk of yesterday will not be the Husk of now. The menu will be simpler, smaller, but just as thoughtful, Buck promised.

“So soulful, delicious, from the heart and portable, whatever that looks like that’s what it will be inspired by,” Buck said with a gentle laugh. “I think we’ve got some good ideas and I’ve got the right team to do it. “

And, ever the optimist, he added, “And they’ll be coming back well rested.”

These restaurants also remain closed:

  • Kitchen Sync
  • Southern Culture Kitchen

Lillia Callum-Penso covers food for The Greenville News. She can be reached at lpenso@greenvillenews.com or at 864-478-5872, or on Facebook atfacebook.com/lillia.callumpenso.