Anxious trepidation. Yep, that's what I felt while climbing the steps at The McKee's at 139-B last week to meet infamous chef Brett McKee. We had talked before on several occasions and kept up with each other in social media, but never met. A vision of a Carolina version of Chef Gordon Ramsay wafted through my head. You see, that's what rumor mills do.
Brett met me warmly, and I immediately felt comfortable in his presence. I clicked the recorder on while he breezed me through his new venue. While I'll admit the room was charged by his presence, a lot of the energy came from the bustle of what appears to be a promising new venture for Brett McKee. The building's old-world charm echoed in the studio room that housed the first level's kitchen and dining area. Whitewash on the brick walls could barely contain its stories, centuries of Charleston living. Just a few minutes in and Brett's phone was ringing and dancing on the table. He apologized, saying that he had to take the call. I didn't mind. Actually, I would have missed some of 139-B's charm had he not. I peered out of the street-front window as I heard the clomp, clomp of a carriage coming down Market Street. Palmetto fronds were whisping in front of the Gucci store across from 139-B. It just feels right—something good, something Old World meets new, something "Oh so Charleston" is going on here. While the table in the dining room was staged with flutes, plates, and napkins, the round-table meeting in the room beside me wasn't. Parties were being booked while menus, staff, and wine list were being discussed.
OK, so 139-B structurally has what it takes—let's see what's at the wheel. Brett came back from his call and, without missing a beat, picked up where he left off. With hardly a breath between sentences (so glad I had the recorder), he proceeded to portray his vision room by room—and for years out.
Brett has been on the uptake and following new dreams since he left Oak Steakhouse. The ideas that led to this establishment were fueled by his success in the private sector doing intimate home gatherings, dinners, and cooking classes throughout the Lowcountry. “My clients/friends would ask, Brett, when are you going to open up a place we can come to?" To which he explained to them over and over, "I don't want to go back into a restaurant." Over the course of these past few years, he discovered a new calling. “I found that I love the experience of the smaller, intimate social gatherings. They remind me of my life in Brooklyn, New York. Everything happened around the table, in closer groups. I found when I left these local private cooking classes and dinner parties that I had made friends. Not something that happens in the kitchen of the restaurant. Charleston is growing by leaps and bounds in popularity, not in structure. There is only so far you can go in town with limited building space. We're going to end up with 100 restaurants in town and 10 chefs to run them all."
Brett is transparent about his past woes. "I sacrificed years of my life, my health and relationships, in the F&B biz. Even though that is what I know, it’s what I do. It had to change. This is me now, I’m comfortable with this. The McKee's at 139-B is about offering what I love and do best without sacrificing my life or my family's. I am healthier than I have ever been. I don't drink, party, smoke. If I am not here, I am with my family or finding ways to give back to the community. That is my life now. This place, these walls, I can come and go as I plan for the select events and members of this group, and so can the members of 139-B.”
His family is all on board. It's a collaborative effort involving two single parents, six girls, and a granddaughter. Some of his girls work with him, as well. Brett's fiancé, Kathy Downey, is also an intricate piece of the puzzle here. One such event that her hands are all over is the upcoming Valentines Singles Banquet, and with Charleston being on the hot list across the nation and world now as a top desired wedding venue, there will be opportunities galore to offer at 139-B. "We are coordinating with almost every single top wedding planner in the city," Brett explained.
This private dinner social club will offer an environment that encourages the pace of leisure, of building relationships and socializing with wonderful food. It's not a crescendo to drunkenness. It’s a place where 150 members can gather, vetting and dining comfortably with the assurance of private security. Brett explains, "No one is going to crash your event from the street—you can enjoy your evening without the unexpected threats in public dining, such as someone hitting on your partner while you are in the restroom or spilling a drink on you as they stumble past. Another benefit of the closeness in numbers is that the staff and I will know and cater to their [the members] personal likes and dislikes. Not as easily attained in the restaurant world. Allergies, wine selections, birthdays, anniversarys, milestones, favorites wine, dinner choices, to name a few."
I was taken aback, actually, at what the venue offers for the price of membership—$1000 gets you a membership and six scheduled events a month, to include two dinners, two rooftop events, and two brunches. In addition, they'll have access to the building's two bedrooms and rooftop terrace. If a member wants to book The McKee's at 139-B for any event, big or small, it would cost $500 less than the regular booking fee of $1500 during the week and $3000 on the weekend. And that is with Chef Brett cooking.
I came away from the meeting excited for Brett McKee and 139-B, and more so for its members. They are in for one hell of a virgin cruise with him. The McKee's at 139-B is sure to produce subgroups and interest for expansion in so many areas.
Upcoming Events at The McKee's at 139-B:
Are you "Single in the City" and want an upscale alternative to the Charleston nightlife scene on Valentine's evening? Come meet other sophisticated singles in a beautiful, exclusive setting while enjoying amazing food prepared by celebrity chef Brett McKee. Join 139-B for hors d'oeuvres, a premium open bar under the stars on the rooftop terrace, interactive meetings, music, and dancing. Cupid promises a few Valentine's surprises. Tickets info at shopinsanelygood.com
The McKee's at 139-B is also the venue for an incredible Mardi Gras party coming up on Saturday, February 21, The Charleston Shoe Krewe's inaugural Mardi Gras Fete, which will feature a premium open bar, live music, dancing, and lots of revelry. You can get your tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1148185.