Opening a restaurant and making it is a recipe whose ingredients include know-how, labor, pragmatism, patience, vision and capital.
Anthony Debreceny would add luck to that entrepreneurial grocery list. He is too humble, proven in part by the hundreds of adages that inextricably tie one’s so-called luck to hard work and perseverance.
Opening a second restaurant seems to call for an even bigger heaping of the same fixings plus a few spoonfuls of chutzpah, though for a relatively small city, Savannah is home to quite a few eatery empires and restaurant groups whose individual outposts range from outstanding to middling.
In October, Debreceny will add a fourth star to his popular and successful Southern Cross Hospitality constellation when he brings his brand to the Forsyth Park fort and opens Collins Quarter at Forsyth.
Not long after that, Michael Vaudrin will have bookend restaurants on Broughton Street when The Broughton Common opens its eponymous doors about five blocks east of The Ordinary Pub, which has thrived with locals and tourists since it opened in the summer of 2015.
While the thought of maintaining prosperity at just one place is daunting for those of us who merely dine out and daydream of opening a bakery, bar or bistro, both Debreceny and Vaudrin cut the figures of proprietors who are an equal mix of excited, confident and unruffled — a clear sign that they and their respective teams know what they are doing and that diners at their new restaurants will soon eat the benefits.
Collins Quarter at Forsyth
At first glance, the magnolia-white fort with its colonnaded portico looks like a license to print money. After all, the location comes with guaranteed year-round walk-up clientele, and yet, after The Mansion chose not to renew its lease with the city and shuttered Forsyth Park Café, the fort sat dormant since November 2017.
The city of Savannah issued its first request for proposal (RFP) in March 2018 and solicited a good deal of interest, most of which faded over concerns about this and that, leaving Southern Cross Hospitality as one of two prospective bidders. Debreceny’s first swing missed due to logistics and timing, but the property remained unleased a year later.
Take two: success. Collins Quarter at Forsyth will open in the stately fort in late October.
Debreceny smirked at the economics of timing: what was a $1,500 monthly rent for Forsyth Park Café will be $6,000 a month for him. Even so, considering the properties he has resurrected and the success he has earned with his first three Savannah establishments, this restaurateur is the man for the moment and the location, one that he will have for the next 10 years.
He understands that the main difference with this piece of real estate is having the city as both a landlord and a governing body. The $1 million he invested in renovating The Collins Quarter was matched by what he put into The Fitzroy, which might make the $350,000 going into the Forsyth location look like a bargain. After 10 years, though, what happens with the fort he is reviving will then be up to the city.
Debreceny recalled his renovation teams from The Fitzroy project for this venture, using The Kicklighter Co. for the rebuild and Amber Scott Design for the interior design and decor, which means that the fort is getting much needed bodywork and an attentive facelift, all with Debreceny’s own touches.
“I am very, very, very hands on,” he said before downing a cappuccino in one swig and then saying that after some redesign discrepancy stalled the timeline a bit, there is not much construction work left to do, now down to interior design and finishing details.
Collins Quarter at Forsyth’s comestible concept will be more day-focused with service for brunch and lunch seven days a week and dinner offered on just Friday and Saturday nights to accord with the pedestrian traffic in the park. Even though the resto will not open until late October, Executive Chef April Spain, formerly of Smith Brothers Butcher Shop, has been on the Southern Cross payroll for the last three weeks.
“We’re working on the menu now,” he said, but when I asked about a possible replication of the original Collins Quarter, he quickly promised, “No two dishes will be alike,” though the sequel space will also have a coffee bar and a separate adult beverage bar.
Ever since The Collins Quarter opened in August 2014, it has been an anchor at the corner of Bull and Oglethorpe, the ultimate passerby magnet for great coffee service, a posh bar, an Aussie-Euro vibe, and truly delicious and unique but approachable cuisine.
In May 2017, Debreceny and his team took over the restaurant space at Tybee’s Beachside Colony Resort.
“Any beach property in Australia does well,” he confessed, affably blaming his down-under roots for making it an opportunity impossible to pass up. “Make it nice, and people will come.”
Less than a year later, he opened The Fitzroy, bringing stability and stylish dining to a space on Drayton that had turned over three times in five years.
“I didn’t want another place,” Debreceny said honestly, when I asked what spurred him toward the Forsyth fort. “Even my daughter said, ‘You’re going to build another one?’”
Four restaurants on Savannah’s thriving culinary map is phenomenal, even more astounding because Debreceny came to the U.S. as a Japanese translator for folks looking to buy Hatteras sportfishing yachts. He and his wife were only planning on being here for a few months at first and then six months at a time, split between the City of Squares and Spanish Moss and their newly purchased dream house back in Melbourne.
Now, Southern Cross Hospitality employs a staff of more than 160 in three signature restaurants with more to come in the next two months.
And by the time Collins Quarter at Forsyth has established itself as another favorite for locals and tourists alike, Debreceny might well be onto his next project. You know the empty storefront two doors down from The Collins Quarter, the former home of Smooth Cafe? He started renting that back in 2016 and recently found a Michelin-trained chef who has been Uber driving. The early word is Izakaya: a casual Asian pub that will specialize in Thai tapas.
No rest for the weary, or for the passionate, talented and successful.
The Broughton Common
This origin story is more providence than planning. What began as a simple search for a prep kitchen turned into a love-at-first-sight tale of boy meets building.
More than a year ago now, Michael Vaudrin was on his way to a wine tasting and passed by 118 E. Broughton St., the fallow space that most recently was home to Casbah. Though he was looking for something much smaller, and not necessarily a full restaurant and certainly not a property on the same street as his other place, he called his realtor and said, “Let’s just ask.”
In September 2018, he bought the building, and with the unveiling of The Broughton Common imminent, it is clear that Vaudrin’s love for the onetime home of The Orpheum Theater and Punch and Judy children’s boutique has grown. Eight months into night-and-day sweat equity, he is all smiles and could not be prouder of what he is about to open — even if that exact date is not exact on purpose.
Since January, Vaudrin, his wife, and his team have been hard at work on renovation and decoration without holding themselves to a deadline and allowing themselves the occasional Sunday to call it quits at 2 p.m. to head around the corner to The Fitzroy.
“Certain days, I just wanted to crawl into a corner,” he admitted this past Saturday, still smiling genuinely beneath his understandably worn Broughton Common cap, “but most of it’s been fun.
“We’ll open the day after we’re ready,” Vaudrin said as he took a break from working on the mezzanine, immediately echoed by Executive Chef Justin Grizzard and other team members who were mopping the floor. No fuss and feathers here.
“We don’t rush it. We’ll celebrate our grand opening on our one-year anniversary,” he explained about his preferred and purposeful lack of launch fanfare. “That way, we’ll know people have liked it.”
When the doors swing wide, brunch and lunch will be served seven days a week, and Broughton Common will have dinner hours every evening except Sunday.
The main floor, comprising a long bar to the right and dining room seating to the left, is wide open with a nearly two-story ceiling height. Add the renovated and structurally reinforced mezzanine, and Broughton Common has more than 4,000 square feet, enough to serve as many as 140 guests — and that is just the first two floors of this landmark downtown property.
And then there is the third floor. Oh, the third floor. On the record, Vaudrin playfully said that this additional 4,000-plus square feet is tapped for “absolutely nothing.” Off the record, I assured him that it could easily rival the Husk’s heavenly upstairs bar or serve as a truly special event space, what with the separate entrance off of Broughton Street, floor-to-ceiling windows that look directly at The Marshall House, and its own newly tricked-out kitchen, which will be used as a prep site for now. More to follow on this unique room, for sure.
As much as possible, the designs by LS3P Architecture and Vaudrin’s own creativity have assured that the majority of the interior space would remain true to its historical character. While the windows along the sidewalk, the poured concrete floor, the sparkly light fixtures, and all of the plumbing and HVAC are new, what drinkers and diners will see here is Savannah’s past restored.
“When things in Savannah are brand new, it feels fake,” said Vaudrin.
The newly installed bar top is actually the footprint cut-out of the original floor beneath it, all in one piece; the nailings nearly align with those still on the saved-and-refinished pub floor. Punch and Judy built that mezzanine back in 1955, and because it was the feature that sold Vaudrin on the building, he worked with the city to save it by raising the ceiling height to accommodate an intimate collection of tables that have a treehouse view of the entire restaurant.
“I love this thing,” he said from on high, gazing out over the almost finished first floor. He added that this new venture has gone smoothly for the most part, noting the cooperation of the various municipal commissions and authorities throughout the restoration process. “The city has been fantastic. Just do the right stuff in the right order.”
Grizzard, who has been at The Ordinary for the last four years, will move down the street to direct the kitchen creations at Broughton Common and a “reimagined pub fare” menu that has been in R&D for nearly a year and in a slyly surreptitious way. Whether or not you knew it, if you chose one of the Common Offerings at The Ordinary in the last few months, you were part of the taste-testing focus group.
“It’s the same style,” Vaudrin said of the menu as it compares to The Ordinary, “but 100% different.” The only hints he dropped were that there would be mac and cheese but perhaps with she-crab and pork belly corn dogs with apricot barbecue sauce and mustard coulis.
Vaudrin and Grizzard are equally giddy about a shiny stainless steel first-floor kitchen that, on its own, offers four times the space as the one at its sister resto, but they promise that the two gastropubs will be two separate restaurants at either end of Broughton.
Bar manager Jason Allmond will oversee the elevated craft cocktail creations at this grownup gastropub that promises to be as cozy as a corner bar while fancier than your typical neighborhood watering hole. The only Ordinary employee who will bounce between both Broughton Street branches is Jane-of-all-trades Mickey Hickey, a one-woman crew of brand ambassador, director of events, and public relations.
Hickey insisted that the economics are “absolutely” there for running a second restaurant on the same strip, partly because The Broughton Common is an entirely visible destination. “Savannah is asking for more from The Ordinary Pub. This is it.”
Vaudrin explained the intention of his two restaurants’ names, underscoring the synonyms ordinary and common to ensure the unfussy nature of his brand. Still, a snug subterranean pub is not ordinary, and the look and feel of his new restaurant bode something quite uncommon.
Someday, Neil and his wife will be living in a tiny town in the south of France, eating, doing crosswords, and playing Scrabble. For now, when he is not grading papers, baking bread, or watching EPL soccer, he builds furniture and writes.