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15 Minutes with Ben & Kate Towill

March 2018
15 Minutes with Ben & Kate Towill

Meet the restaurateur-designer duo behind Basic Kitchen and learn how they live by the café’s motto, “cleaner fuel, longer adventures”

CM: How long have you been in town?
This is our fourth year here. Before that, we were in New York for 10 years. I moved there when I was 18 to study at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and ended up staying.
BT: And I moved there when I was 22 or 23.

CM: Anything you miss or don’t miss about the city?
New York is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, but that environment takes a toll. It’s not until I speak with my friends still living there that I realize how different our quality of life is now.
KT: I miss our friends, but not the nonstop of everything. There, it’s okay to e-mail someone at eight p.m. and expect a response. I love how our workdays really end at five—and sometimes four!

CM: What inspired Basic Kitchen?
We came up with the idea when we took a cycling trip across the country in 2014. We started in Jamestown, Virginia, and finished 4,500 miles later in Astoria, Oregon. During the trip, we hashed out a plan for Basic Projects, our project-design company, and Basic Kitchen sprung from that.
KT: I remember we were in Lander, Wyoming, when we thought it up. We wanted to make a restaurant that we’d like to eat at three or four times a week, with plenty of fresh vegetables and proteins.

CM: And this wasn’t your first rodeo opening a restaurant, right?
Right. Before this, I opened a few New York restaurants, like Fat Radish, Leadbelly, and The East Pole. And last year, Kate and I renovated a 300-year-old pub in the U.K. called the Ferryboat Inn, which is owned by my brother and his wife.

CM: What was it like designing Basic?
When we were planning, we kept thinking about how bright and clean and simple we wanted the food, but sometimes with that menu concept comes very stark spaces. I wanted it to be bright, but also welcoming. So I brought in texture with vintage fabrics and leather.
BT: Kate’s background is in set design, and she’s so good at layering artwork and pieces of furniture. We worked with a lot of local artists, like Sully Sullivan, who did all of the photography.

CM: Did you ever worry that folks wouldn’t go for a vegetable-heavy menu?
There were some doubts, but we believed that there was a need for this in Charleston, and we knew we had a great group of people who were interested. We tried not to be single-minded, making a strictly plant-based or meat-less menu—I think that would isolate people.
KT: We’re not vegetarians ourselves, but we wanted to create a place that catered to all types of eaters, vegetarians included. We sell as many veggie bowls here as we do turkey burgers.

CM: What’s the thought behind your motto, “cleaner fuel, longer adventures”?
Our hope is that customers will pick their own adventures, and then after eating healthfully, it will be much easier to accomplish those things. I believe whole-heartedly that food is at the center of so much in our lives: it shapes our actions, the way we feel.

CM: What’s your favorite adventure?
Every two years, Ben and I plan a big trip, which we call our passion project. We did a cross-country ride in 2014, and then in 2016, we went with a group from Charleston to explore Antarctica, which was incredible. We’re brainstorming our next one! 


Photographs by (Ben & Kate Towill) by Brett Tighe & (sailing) courtesy of Kate Towill, & courtesy of (Chez Nous) the restaurant