When John Beck, owner of Sheehan’s Irish Pub on Central Avenue, opened the doors to his new restaurant called Beck’s at 2111 Kings Way this week, he was overwhelmed by the neighborhood’s immediate support for this new hot spot on the Hill.
“As soon as people began hearing that we were starting a new place, they’ve been watching to see when we would open,” Beck said. “It has taken a little bit longer than we thought it would, but we’ve had a lot of really, really good response so far. People have been interested in that space because it is nice to have another locally owned place to go to in the neighborhood where people don’t have to drive downtown or out to Washington Road. It is within walking distance for a lot of people in the neighborhood.”
Not long after 5 O’Clock Bistro closed its doors last year, Beck said he began eyeing the Kings Way location and quickly realized that it had great potential.
“Somebody called me early the first morning that it was obvious that 5 O’clock Bistro was going to close and I immediately liked the place. When I saw it, I thought that it would be a good spot for an oyster bar,” Beck said. “Right now, if we want oysters, we go to Abel Brown (Southern Kitchen & Oyster Bar), but other than that, in my opinion, there is really nowhere else to go to get oysters that I would feel safe eating. So that’s how it all started.”
Beck said he was simply looking to create an oyster bar with a “fun, lively atmosphere” that offered quality food and good beverages.
“I like that kind of a place. I like to go in and it not be stuffy. I like to have a little bit more activity and lively atmosphere,” Beck said. “So initially we were going to do a little more of a casual place, but a local guy named Duane Wilson of Wilco Woodwork, Inc. did all the woodwork for us. He is really talented and just completely transformed the place. It just kind of took on a life of its own and it turned out to be a little bit more upscale than what I was initially planning, but it is just beautiful inside.”
For now, Beck’s restaurant will be open for lunch and will offer guests a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as a few entrees such as shrimp and grits and jambalaya.
“We are just going to open for lunch, initially, so we can kind of work it out and get comfortable with lunch and then we will open for dinner,” Beck said. “I don’t know exactly what day we’ll open for dinner. It is whenever I feel like we are ready. But, for right now, the lunch menu is soups, salads and sandwiches with a few hot entrees.”
But this isn’t your typical lunch fare in Augusta.
Beck’s offers dishes such as the blackened shrimp po’boy with spicy slaw, a fried green tomato, red remoulade and goat cheese or the shrimp salad roll that is served with your choice of kale slaw, french fries, broccoli salad, baked garlic potato wedges or Zapp’s chips.
As for soups, Beck’s offers a cup or bowl of venison chili, loaded baked potato soup, shrimp bisque or oyster andouille soup.
Also on the lunch menu is Beck’s Honeycrisp Apple Salad with mixed greens, Vidalia onions, raspberries, smoked turkey and goat cheese with poppyseed vinaigrette, as well as the roasted beet salad featuring fresh grapefruit, blood oranges, mixed bitter greens, roasted beets, bleu cheese with bacon-walnut vinaigrette.
That is just a sample of Beck’s new lunch menu.
“Once we open for dinner, the dinner menu will be totally different,” Beck said. “It will be oystercentric. Lots of different kinds of oysters. We also have a wood-fired grill so we will do a couple of ribeyes every night, as well as a couple of good burgers every night. And I’m going to try to do one good Southern dish every night, whether it is something like fried chicken or whole fried catfish or something like that. I am going to try to have it designated each night so people can say, ‘Hey, it’s fried chicken night at Beck’s. Let’s go.’ And, of course, we are also going to do a lot of fresh seafood. The dinner menu is in my head, but I haven’t put it on paper yet.”
While the restaurant is currently concentrating on perfecting its lunch service, Beck’s will be open Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“We will probably eventually do something on Saturday. It may not even be lunch. I’m not sure yet,” Beck said. “Then, when we open for dinner, it is going to be Wednesday through Sunday, because there’s not a lot of locally owned places to go to on Sunday night.”
Beck’s will also offer a full bar with a handful of different craft cocktails, he said.
“I’m a big-time bourbon drinker, so we will have a pretty good bourbon selection,” Beck said. “We are going to have probably six to eight to 10 different craft cocktails of our own every night. It won’t change every night and we are not going to do 50 different cocktails or anything because it just makes the bar too slow. At a place like Craft & Vine, they do a great job and have great offerings, but I don’t want to have 15 bartenders and I don’t want to have to wait 10 minutes to get a drink.”
Beck said his goal is to offer guests “really good drinks and do it consistently,”
“With my personality, we are not going to get crazy and try to invent drinks that you have never heard of. That’s not me. But we will use all fresh juices and we will make a lot of our own stuff in-house, but we will never do like bacon-flavored bourbon or anything like that,” Beck said, laughing. “It’s a waste of bacon and bourbon. I love bacon and I love bourbon, but I don’t want them together unless I am making some bourbon syrup over my bacon pancakes or something.”
While Beck said he will need to concentrate much of his attention on the new restaurant over the next several months, he assured loyal customers of Sheehan’s that the Irish pub will continue to offer the same quality food and drinks and outstanding service as always.
“It’s a lot of hard work having two restaurants, but I’m prepared for it,” Beck said. “I have done it before. It’s not fun because I have a hard time delegating, but the two restaurants are close and I have a really good group at Sheehan’s. So, I will be spending a lot more time at the new place. Unfortunately, that’s just how it works, but that staff at Sheehan’s, most of them have been here at least five years, so it is really the best crew that I’ve ever had. And, as long as I know that I am just down the street and can walk in the back door of Sheehan’s any minute, I feel pretty comfortable with it.”
As for the new restaurant, Beck said he expects it will help promote and attract new guests and visitors to the Summerville area.
“I think anytime there is a successful restaurant it definitely promotes the area. And I don’t have any doubt that we’ll be successful. I don’t mean that to sound boastful or anything, but I think if I put my heart into something, it is going to work,” Beck said. “So, anytime there is a successful restaurant, I think it makes people look at an area differently. In fact, I know Todd Schafer of Abel Brown had been in talks with the people next door to us about that space and possibly a new restaurant. I don’t know that he’ll do it because it is a lot of money to put into that space that is not really big enough, but that would be great for the area.”
Beck’s has already started a new buzz and excitement throughout the neighborhood, he said.
“We’ll bring people who have never even driven through the area to come here for dinner,” he said. “I mean, a lot of people went to the 5 O’clock Bistro, but a lot of people didn’t. So, we’ll definitely bring new faces to that entire little block, all the way to Walton Way which runs right down there by The Partridge Inn. So, it is a good neighborhood and a good spot.”
And because Beck has already proven he can provide the Summerville area with a cozy, neighborhood atmosphere like Sheehan’s, he is encouraged by local residents’ early enthusiasm for his new restaurant.
“A lot of the local people from the neighborhood will drive their golf carts over or walk up to see us at Sheehan’s,” Beck said. “I think the same will definitely be true at Beck’s. We’re already seeing that support.”
With the addition of several new restaurants in recent years such as Abel Brown, Craft & Vine and Finch & Fifth to the Augusta area, Beck believes local residents’ palates have really matured over the past few decades.
“But I think that’s everywhere, really. People’s palates have changed as far as going out to dinner,” Beck said. “But, around here, Augusta has really just been a hard nut to crack, as far as the culinary scene. There have been a few restaurants back in the day, like Le Cafe DuTeau, that were a huge hit. And, to me, Cadwallader’s is still a very good restaurant. They’ve been there a long time. But Augusta is odd, from a culinary standpoint, because it has always been kind of a risk.”
However, Augustans are really beginning to expect more out of local restaurants, Beck said.
“The one thing about Augusta is it seems like all the kids go off to college and they all come back and raise their families here,” said Beck, who is an Augusta native.
The same scenario is true for other local restaurant owners such as Todd Schafer of Abel Brown, Faulkner Warlick of Finch & Fifth and Brian Brittingham and George Claussen IV of Southbound Smokehouse, he said.
“I was in Atlanta in the 1980s, and the culinary scene there wasn’t really much to talk about, but it is now,” Beck said. “If you go to Atlanta, there is just such a wide variety of pretty darn good places to go eat. And people get used to that and, yeah, I think they want it in their neighborhood, too.”
Customers want restaurants in the Augusta area that can provide quality cuisines that are found in major cities throughout the country, Beck said.
“And, certainly, many of those new restaurants seem to be kind of concentrated on the Hill, but they can also be found downtown with Sean Wight’s restaurants,” Beck said, referring to Craft & Vine, Farmhaus and Frog Hollow Tavern. “That is what’s great about Augusta. You think about Evans and, really, Cadwallader’s is the only place I can think of to get a really good dinner. I am sure that there are a few small, hole-in-the wall places that I haven’t been to, but that’s about it. I mean, my brother’s place is out in Martinez, French Market Grille West, but it is more of Creole/Cajun restaurant, so you have to be in the mood for that. But he does a very good job. However, between places like Abel Brown, Bodega Ultima and Frog Hollow, I mean, there are some really good places to eat in Augusta.”
Beck said he takes great pride in being able to provide that same high standard to his guests at both Sheehan’s and now at Beck’s.
“I think for people that really like to eat good food, that is starting at a much earlier age now. People’s palates are maturing so much earlier,” Beck said. “Now, people in their 20s expect good meals. Even my daughter, who is 11, she can tell you quick if she has had a good meal or not.”
Such high expectations can only improve Augusta’s overall dining scene, Beck said.
“The truth is, people expect better food when they go out,” he said. “So I think the people putting out quality food, they are the ones who are really successful. Here in Augusta and everywhere else.”