Imagine the outrage when one of the most popular lunch spots in town closed. You could count the number of jaws dropping across town when word started to spread that SOHO South Cafe, an eclectic cafe on Liberty Street near Bull, was closing its doors.
Once word trickled out, the Daniel Reed Group, owners of Local11ten and Public Kitchen and Bar, were the new owners, there was hope that it wouldn't change too dramatically.
Multiple cries could be heard: "Don't get rid of the tomato soup!" and "They'd better not drop the grilled cheese off of their menu!"
At first, there were rumors of something big, a game changer in Savannah. We waited and watched the build-out at the old SOHO.
Hoped it would be something new and "cool" but also keeping the original concept in place.
When I asked around early on, I was told, "It will stay the same, but it's getting a makeover."
Well now the curtain has gone up, and Savannah is in for a real treat.
The new SOHO South Cafe is now open in that same spot directly across the Mellow Mushroom on Liberty Street.
What a beautiful space it is. The retail area up front where previous owners sold greeting cards and books is gone. It's been replaced by a full liquor bar.
The mix-and-match tables and chairs? Still there, but enhanced by a much more open space, adorned with chandeliers and my favorite part, a giant clock. It hangs right smack dab in the middle of the dining area.
"We needed something to fill in the space," says Jamie Durrence, managing partner of Daniel Reed Hospitality.
Durrence has been very busy the past couple of years. Public Kitchen and Bar across the street from SOHO hadn't been open very long before the move was made to acquire the space across the street.
There were bigger plans in mind, but going smaller at SOHO was the best fit for the current marketplace.
"I like to stay ahead of the curve when developing new concepts," Durrence says. "There are some things we'd still like to do. It could take two years. It could take 20. Who knows?"
All of that, I'm sure, depends on the success of this new space in the heart of the Historic District.
At SOHO South, a lot of their menu is the same.
"We wanted to pay an homage to the old SOHO," Durrence says. "But kind of a new chapter."
The new look is the same but warmer and trendy.
Less hodgepodge and more - for lack of a better description - "big-city cool." (My words, not his).
There is a definite lunchtime feel inside during the day, but the plan, I'm told, is to have wine glasses and table settings for the dinner crowd to make it look more elegant but still casual.
"It will definitely give the room a pop at night," Durrence says.
Executive Chef Brandy Williamson is in charge of the menu, as she is at Local and Public.
"We have a little bit of everything from our restaurants," she says. "We took 70 percent of what SOHO was doing, tweaked it and put it right back out."
She cites the pesto as an example.
"They bought it," she says, referring to previous owners. "We are making it."
They still serve SOHO's signature tomato soup with the same recipe.
But Williamson's favorite item on the menu is the Monte Christo sandwich. I've never had it, but I knew it from the old menu.
Chef de Cuisine is Patrick Gilpin, formerly of Blue Turtle Bistro.
At the bar, expect the usual suspects to be poured, but there will also be a creative craft cocktail menu.
"Our bar manager came over from Jazz'd," Durrence says. "We just have some basics now, but we are going to develop a great creative bar menu."
The space will support it. From custom-made bar stools ("Made in Ohio, I think," he says.) to the floral wallpaper in the bar.
There is a definite "grandma's house" feel to SOHO, but with an elegant streak - as is the Daniel Reed Hospitality way.
I haven't eaten so much as a cracker there yet, but I love the space already. It's comfortable and inviting.
It's the kind of place I see in a lot of other cities around the South in our travels for our TV show, but had yet to really see here in Savannah (with a notable exception at B. Tillman.) They nailed it, and I'm sure the food will follow suit.
The menu will evolve, as any menu does in a new restaurant, but don't panic. Those staples will remain. You can have salads, soups, sandwiches at lunch and upgrade to seafood, steak or pasta at dinnertime.
They will even have a Sunday brunch, by reservation, which will keep you from waiting out on Liberty Street for a table.
Check out their menu here.
Shoot me a line if you head over there, but I won't be surprised at all if you Eat It and Like It.