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15 Minutes with Jonathan Ory

May 2017
15 Minutes with Jonathan Ory

From working kitchen gigs at haute restaurants to opening Bad Wolf Coffee in Chicago, this Charleston native has returned home to lead the chefs at Workshop, the Holy City’s new food hall

CM: Where did you grow up?
JO:
I grew up in West Ashley and met my wife, Sarah, in high school in North Charleston. We now live in Mount Pleasant with our kids, Jonathan Henry (who’s five) and Clara (who’s three).

CM: What took you to Chicago?
JO:
I was craving a big city with a more diverse food scene than Charleston. So I left at 18 to work in a family-run Korean place in Chicago.

CM: Is that when you started cooking? 
JO:
It was my first real kitchen experience. But I was probably four or five years old when I began experimenting with food. My dad traveled a lot for his work with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, and he would bring me ingredients from Japan.

CM: Tell us more about your résumé.
JO:
In 2007, I worked at Schwa, a tasting-counter restaurant. After that, I went up to New York to work for Momofuku Ko for two years. Then in 2012, Sarah and I moved back to Chicago to open Bad Wolf Coffee.

CM: Around the same time, you and Sarah founded the Heirloom Foundation. What’s that about?
JO:
We started the Heirloom Foundation in 2012 with the goal of promoting wellness for chefs. Today, Sean Brock is on our board of directors, and we raise funds to help support healthier lives for food and beverage industry workers. We recently gave a grant to the Giving Kitchen in Atlanta, which is an organization that helps restaurant staffers facing hardships.

CM: How did you land at Workshop?
JO:
On a visit to Charleston, I met Butcher & Bee’s owner, Michael Shemtov, and he explained his idea for a food hall-style space that needed a coffee shop. When I told him a little more about myself, he said, “Wow, you have a lot of kitchen experience; you would probably be great to manage this whole operation.” So I got the job, and I got to bring Bad Wolf down to Charleston.

CM: What’s the scoop on Bad Wolf?
JO:
We serve San Francisco’s Four Barrel coffee and housemade pastries, and we’re creating an afternoon menu of small plates and cocktails.

CM: How does Workshop follow a “pop-up” business style?
JO:
Each dining concept will be here for about three months, while some will stay longer. The chefs pretty much have free rein to experiment and make cool stuff that we’ve never seen before. It’s a great opportunity to try out new concepts and see what other chefs and diners think.

CM: What other tenants can we look forward to seeing in Workshop?
JO:
Among the food stalls will be John Lewis’s Juan Luis Tex-Mex; Pink Bellies Vietnamese food; Slice Co. pizza; and J.D. Loves Cheese, a grilled cheese place from Butcher & Bee’s Cynthia Wong.

CM: And you’re heading a Korean cuisine stall, too?
JO:
Yes! I’ll be serving Korean “spa food,” which means lots of veggies and chilled noodles.

CM: Finally, we have to ask: what’s the story behind your “803” tattoo?
JO:
I got really homesick while living in Chicago, so I tattooed Charleston’s then-area code, 803, across my neck. But then, lucky me, the area code changed to 843—and now I’m representing Columbia.

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Photographs by (ORY) Andrew Cebulka, (Guitar & Pedals) Jonathan Ory & (Westbrook Mexican Cake) Margret Wood & Courtesy of (Palmetto Islands County Park) Charleston County Parks