HIDDEN F&B: John Zucker

Helen Mitternight

By Helen Mitternight / Photo by Andrew Cebulka, courtesy of John Zucker

(Editor’s Note: Charleston is such a foodie town that food and beverage superstars are hiding in plain sight, out of theJames Beardlimelight, but still very much creating and serving amazing food and drinks. This series profiles Charleston’s “hidden F&Bs.”)

John Zucker, owner ofCru Cafe,Cru CateringandPurlieustill visits his restaurant every day. Of course, he lives right upstairs, and with the restaurant shuttered, it’s easy to maintain social distancing.

He’s not thinking much about food these days, though. Instead, he’s focusing more on how to take care of the 85 employees he had to let go during the shutdown. And one more thing? He picked a hell of a time to quit drinking!

John’s take:

Favorite Kitchen Tool or Gadget: When I’m on the line, it’s my fish spatula. If I’m catering, it’s myKitchenAid.I want to have that ready and rolling.  

In My Refrigerator (3 Things): Shallots. I love them. And mayonnaise — not going to get into a discussion of which brand. And some type of bread. Before all of this, I bought a bunch of bagels and froze them and I use them as needed.

In My Pantry (3 Things): I don’t cook at home that much. I live right above the restaurant and I just come downstairs to cook what I need.  

Favorite After-Work Hangout: I quit drinking about four months ago so I don’t go to drink as much as to socialize atHarold’s Cabin.

Favorite Charleston Restaurant Other Than Yours:Kwei-Fei.They do a great job. I went about a year ago and I got addicted.

Comfort FoodHave you BEEN to Cru Cafe? That’s pretty much what we do there. I would say the mac and cheese.

Favorite Smell: Roasted garlic. I don’t like it as much in a dish, but I love the smell.

Favorite Drink: It’s funny. Since I stopped drinking liquor, my tastes have changed. I’ve acquired a taste for coffee.

Number of Hours You Work a Week: Well, after 20 years, I’ve reduced it a bit. I have a great staff. I would say 10-12 hours a day, five or six days a week.

Customer Pet Peeve: Our customers are perfect! But I would say when someone comes in and feels entitled.

Most Under-rated Ingredient: Vanilla in the savory side of food.

Favorite Meal to Cook at Home: I’m a meat and potatoes guy. I haven’t been to the market since the shutdown and I’m dying to go and buy a big steak.

Best Advice From A Mentor: When I went to school, I had an instructor who kept telling me to add salt, add pepper. I realized he was training my taste buds and teaching me how to make the food taste better.

What’s Next? We’re in a waiting game here, I can’t even tell you what’s next.

If you want to help him help his employees, there is a GofundMe campaign set up for that purpose. Make your donation to theCrisis fund for Cru Cafe and Purlieu Employees.  

Want more? Check out the companion podcast with John!