By Mimi Wood, Senior Staff Writer for Island Eye News
Richard Stoney’s life as a restaurateur started well before 1997, when he opened the doors to The Boathouse at Breach Inlet. “My father was not happy,” Stoney recalls, “when, as a 19 year-old college sophomore, I told him I was opening a bar” in downtown Charleston. Teaming up with his older brother’s former roommate, Larry Reid, the pair opened The Hog Penny Tavern a short two months later. “Back in 1972, the drinking age was 18, however I needed someone over 21 to obtain a beer and wine permit!” IOP Mayor-elect Jimmy Carroll, a College of Charleston student in the 70s, confirms the incredible popularity of The Hog Penny. “Halloween’s toga parties were the best,” Carroll jokes, “some stories are better left untold.” Remarkably, Stoney went on, as a college student, to open The Piccadilly Sandwich Shop above The Hog Penny, ultimately selling both businesses while in law school. Fast forward to 2017: The Boathouse is celebrating its 20th anniversary, its entryway bedecked with numerous “Best Of” awards. Stoney’s demeanor, undoubtedly a huge component of his success, is personified in his restaurant: it’s genteel, it’s relaxed, and it’s authentic. Growing up downtown, Stoney spent his summers on Sullivan’s, so he knew the old bait shop and gas station that once occupied the idyllic spot where The Boathouse now sits. For a short time, post-Hugo, the site was occupied by “a pink restaurant…the property was not for sale, but the business was,” Stoney explains.
“So I bought the business, and negotiated a new lease with an option to purchase with John Cantrell,” and began transforming the existing pink building into the iconic Charleston green Boathouse that sits on Breach Inlet today. Encumbered by construction and regulatory issues, Stoney’s new restaurant took much longer to complete than The Hog Penny; a solid year. He elaborates, “I used locals Matthew and Robbie Montgomery, of Cousins Construction, but also hired true shipwrights from New England; master boatbuilders who had actually constructed wooden boats” to achieve the genuine nautical feel the restaurant exudes. “Reggie Gibson, the preeminent restaurant designer in Charleston at the time” was also involved in the design. With regard to the menu, Stoney recalls incredulously that “there were no true seafood restaurants in Charleston” in 1997. “Everything was frozen and fried, except maybe Henry’s.” It was during a visit to Malibu, California that he hit on the idea for a Fish Board, around which The Boathouse’s menu centers, to this day. “The idea was to keep it straightforward… to let the fish speak for itself.” Stoney was on the cutting edge of the now ubiquitous practice offering “three to four fresh fish selections, with four to five different preparation options.” The Boathouse is Platinum Partner with the South Carolina Aquarium’s Good Catch program. “Everything is locally sourced. We buy the whole fish and break it down in our kitchen,” Stoney reveals. “We were one of Mark Marhefka’s first customers; I’m very grateful that he still services us,” states Stoney of one of the Lowcountry’s most in-demand commercial fishermen. In addition to ensuring diners are eating fresh, sustainable seafood, the restaurant is committed to recycling, and reducing the use of single-use plastics. “It’s great to offer a product you can really stand behind,” states Shawn Stullenbarger, The Boathouse’s GM. “I can’t complain about the view, either,” noting that dolphins are seen on a daily basis. Eighty-six feet of dock offer hungry boaters a place to tie up while they dine, year round. Additionally, Stoney recently converted a classic Airstream into a state-of-the-art bar. With a dedicated deck, and stairs descending directly onto the beach, it’s the perfect spot for a private party. But the newest, and most exciting addition is that of a new chef, Michael Fitzhugh. Originally from Virginia, Fitzhugh’s passion for using the freshest, locally sourced ingredients aligns perfectly with Stoney’s philosophy. “We fit hand-in-glove,” Fitzhugh states unequivocally. While in the process of testing new menu offerings, Fitzhugh is not out to completely overturn the pot. “Richard has nailed it,” he enthuses, “taking the age-old chophouse concept of offering a protein and a couple sides, and making it seafood-centric, which makes perfect sense, being next to the ocean. It’s not as much changing the menu as it is updating,” Fitzhugh understates, “I’m putting a fresh coat of paint on it.”