By Reagin von Lehe for The Island Eye News
The Co-Op on Sullivan’s Island has been growing since its inception in 2012, and, when the COVID-19 pandemic took control this year, its gourmet sandwiches and avocado toast were in high demand throughout the Charleston area. Owner Jess Patterson said the Middle Street icon went from being a quaint shop accessible to only Sullivan’s island residents to a popular stop for those both on and off the island.
Although he indicated the shop owes some of its pandemic-era success to the doubling of alcohol consumption during the quarantine – he offers 20 different rosé flavors – he said management’s transparency has helped him maintain his pre-COVID clientele and attract many new customers as well.
“We’re pretty honest and upfront about the struggles that COVID is doing to restaurants and how difficult it sort of is to operate a restaurant,” Patterson said.
“I guess I’m taking a different approach to running a restaurant. I’m giving people an honest look at what goes on behind the scenes.”
At the start of the pandemic, he took to Instagram to explain his family situation – his wife is an at-risk recovered cancer patient – and emphasized that the restaurant needed to close immediately in order to keep his family, customers and staff safe.
Patterson has decided to move the shop, along with its variety of frosé flavors and 24,000 new Instagram followers, to two new locations.
The lease for its current building expires in January, but he was able to snag a spot twice as big that was previously occupied by Almost Pink. He won’t have to move far.
“It was a good business lesson for me to learn,” Patterson said. “Until I own the building, I don’t really have the control of how long I can stay. But, fortunately, I was able to find another home and it’s right next door.”
Anticipating additional growth, Patterson and his team also decided to open a location on Isle of Palms, giving more people the opportunity to try his caprese panini. The deal was finalized in August, and he said he’s hoping to open in the restaurant’s new home soon.
Patterson, who pointed out that The Co-Op has always been a majority female-run business, has expressed his admiration for his team on Instagram.
“I was raised by the strongest woman I know,” he posted. “Idolized my two older sisters growing up and still do. The Co-Op is run by two women. The Co-Op on Palm is going to be run by a woman. Women supporting women is a wonderful thing. I’m obviously not a woman, but I support you daily, always and will forever.”
He did exclude an ex-girlfriend he met on Match.com who he said was the reason he had to have a security system installed. Again, the honesty is admirable.
“Freaks and Geeks” and “White Chicks” star Busy Phillipps agreed in the comment section, telling the owner that his account is “more honest and well-written than anything else out there” and what Patterson is posting is great “revolutionary radical honesty.”
“It’s awesome,” Patterson said. “She’s stopped by and supported us several times. We’re really lucky to have her as a friend.”
The Co-Op started as a market but over the years has reinvented its concept into more of a coffee shop and deli. It’s open every day but Sunday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Patterson recommended grabbing a gourmet California turkey sandwich on your way to the beach