Some folks own a restaurant after working in the industry their entire life, starting as a server or dishwasher. Brad Creger, managing partner of Rutledge Cab Company, fell into it by accident after owning several auto dealerships, managing investments, and heading up a technology company.
His first restaurant, Atlanticville on Sullivan’s Island, was initially meant to be an investment. Then the financial crisis of 2008 hit, and Creger found himself in the restaurant business.
“My idea was to buy the restaurant and the real estate and just be a landlord,” Creger says. “Then I started looking at it, and I thought, ‘How hard could this be?’ I found out that it was very hard.”
In the end, he owned the restaurant for seven years. As he was selling Atlanticville, he was also looking downtown to open another restaurant. It was then he found the building that is now Rutledge Cab Company. It’s also how he found his partners, Bill Murray and Mike Veeck.
“I had been approached by some people to look into opportunities downtown, and I like doing business with people who are fun and interesting,” Creger says. “It started out as a business, but also three guys wanting to do something interesting and fun together. Obviously it’s a capitalistic endeavor, but with the idea of always giving back to the community and having fun as partners and being proud of what we’re doing.”
The trio should be proud. Rutledge Cab Company is now a favorite of locals and visitors alike, who enjoy the cuisine and atmosphere. When they started out, though, many people voiced concerns about the up-and-coming location.
“At that point, once we started construction, we knew we had a winner, because the response from just about everyone, after the shock wore off and people took a good look at it, was phenomenal,” Creger says. “Initially, there were a lot of doubters and haters, I have to say. I had people ask me why I wanted to spend money up in that area because it had yet to see the growth and influx. The metamorphosis hadn’t begun.”
Their risk paid off; the caterpillar is now a full-blown butterfly, and Creger and his team are reaping the benefits.
“We knew we were making the right decision, but in the back of our minds we’re thinking, ‘Is there a wave to be caught here, or is it too soon?’“ says Creger. “When they came up with the name of NoMo (North Morrison), that was an affirmation of our location. Once they give you a funky cool name for the area you’re in, you know things are happening.”
The restaurant itself is funky and cool. The building in which Rutledge Cab Co. is located was vacant for eight years before Creger and his team decided to turn it into a restaurant. Originally, it was going to be named Rutledge Bar and Grill, but the group wanted something a little catchier from a branding standpoint. A chance photo of a dilapidated yellow cab caught Creger’s eye, and the idea for Rutledge Cab Co. was born. An automotive theme was natural; previously, the site of the restaurant was home to an Exxon station, a convenience store, and a stopping point for tow trucks towing cars out of downtown on Friday and Saturday nights.
Right now, the site is stopping point for cars – so their drivers can grab a bite to eat. Creger describes the restaurant as “a neighborhood diner on steroids,” with pub-type comfort food. Quality is the driver behind all the food; everything is made in-house, including pastrami, corned beef, and burger meats.
“We don’t buy anything pre-prepared, pre-breaded, pre-anything,” says Creger. “We even get to the point where we measure our buns, and we reject them if they’re not the perfect size. I like to say we have the best-looking buns in Charleston.”
Be that as it may, Rutledge Cab also has another unexpected draw: the chance of seeing its famous owner. Bill Murray-sighting has become a hobby for Charlestonians and visitors alike. And his influence is apparent in the restaurant.
“Bill has a great feel for restaurants,” says Creger. “He’s a partner in several other restaurants besides Rutledge. He’s got a good palate and he knows what people like. If there is a new menu item being considered, we would get together as a group and generally all of us would try it first.”
Creger and his crew also have a new concept going in two doors down from Rutledge: Food Truck-O-Rama. It’s certainly a novelty in a city full of formal-style southern dining establishments, but it’s a much-needed one.
“If you go visit a food truck, you’ve got a great experience because you’re there for the food, but you don’t have a place to sit, you generally can’t get anything to drink other than what’s at the food truck, and it’s going to be nonalcoholic,” Creger says. “There’s generally no restrooms available, no creature comforts, and you never really know where your favorite food truck will be unless you put in the work to track them down.”
There will be both indoor and outdoor seating at Food Truck-O-Rama, as well as a bar and restrooms. Creger plans to establish relationships with all the food trucks in the area to set up a rotating schedule of four to five food trucks at any given time. A calendar will be posted on the venue’s website letting patrons know when their favorite truck is scheduled.
As Charleston continually ranks on top-destination and top-living cities lists, restaurants have boomed, making the Lowcountry an incredibly competitive market. Creger credits his success to hard work – and a little luck.
“There are a lot of really smart people who aren’t successful, so there’s some luck in what we do,” he says. “But I also think that being careful and managing risk and working hard definitely create an environment for success. If somebody looked at opening a restaurant in Charleston, I’d say be careful and be unique. The space is crowded enough now that you really have to differentiate yourself in a meaningful way.”