BY HELEN MITTERNIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHY: FERRIS KAPLAN
They say this isn’t a brick and mortar building; it’s a brick and chicken salad building. Chicken salad built this place,” said Candice Wigfield, president and co-owner of Hamby Catering.
It would have to be very old chicken salad indeed. This year, the venerable Charleston catering company is celebrating 40 years of special occasions.
It all started with a wedding. Back in 1979, Fran Hamby and her husband Tom were asked to fill in when catering fell through for the wedding reception of a friend’s daughter. There were to be 400 guests, but Fran said her childhood in Williamston, SC, prepared her for the job.
“I grew up the youngest of eleven children, and my family’s life centered around the kitchen. On Sundays, our household would have close to 50 people over for dinner. I didn’t realize at the time that I was learning the inner-workings of catering from my mother, but I see now that I was always destined to provide home-cooked meals for the people of the Lowcountry,” Fran shared
Although Fran claimed she “didn’t originally start out to be a business owner,” Hamby Catering soon grew to be a family business that wove itself into the culture of Charleston and understandably earned the adoration of numerous fans.
Fran turned 92 this year, and she still serves as an advisor to the catering company, which passed from one family to another in 2017 when Fran’s ’s great-nephew, Wes Ellison, sold Hamby Catering to Candice and her father, Wayne Culbertson. Wes still acts as managing advisor.
“We still have the tea sandwiches, ham biscuits and the shrimp n’ grits,” Candice said, adding that her father’s years with Michelin, along with her own MBA, have helped bring business processes to the Southern hospitality and flavor made famous by Mrs. Hamby.
“I’m proud that I chose to pass my legacy through my values, my recipes and my family spirit to Candice and her father, whom I know share the same vision and are already taking Hamby into an even brighter future,” Fran said.
“The crazy thing about having a Citadel MBA is that I use it every single day,” Candice remarked. “And it’s awesome to work with my dad. I’m lucky that I’m close to my parents. Family is one of the company values.”
From Mr. and Mrs. Hamby and a few extra people to 40 people employed on a regular basis (150 during busy season), the company has seen the catering scene change drastically and has grown to include an onsite retail store where customers can pick up some of that famous chicken salad on the fly. Acknowledging the Lowcountry’s Locavore culture, Hamby Catering also invests in local companies whenever possible, including greens from Vertical Roots on Daniel Island.
“Most of the lettuces people get are grown on the West Coast. Those take two weeks to get here,” Candice said “But Vertical Roots is grown 16 miles from Hamby Catering, and it’s harvest-to-service within 24 hours. Plus, we’re investing in the Charleston community.”
Candice also said she has recently seen more “foodies” selecting catering menus, as well as more people wanting to cater to guests with food allergies.
“We have done several events that are completely vegan,” she explained. “Traditionally, we’re about as far from vegan as you can get, but we do it really well. We have some vegan and gluten-free desserts that will change your life!”
Candice said she and the culinary staff also see their job as educating customers who only know Lowcountry cooking by reputation.
“They think it’s all grits and biscuits, and we tell them how important rice was to our history as well. Or we get them to try pimento cheese or pickled okra for the first time,” she said. “But it’s our most important job to make sure the client is heard. For them, this may be the only event in their lives that is catered.”
Hamby Catering largest feat by far is being caterer of record for the Volvo Car Open tennis tournament. Next year will be the sixth year, and it is, Candice said, “a Tetris game of logistics,” with factors like rain delays influencing meal delays and requiring food to be kept fresh until the weather allows games to resume.
“We cater for the VIP suites, for the media, and for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the players,” she said. “These are players from all over the world. Most have not had pimento cheese or cheese straws. It’s an education process.”
Candice hopes to see the company take on even more large-scale events in the future.
“We are making changes,” she commented. “We’re innovating, but I never want to get away from that tradition that is our foundation. We are family-founded and female-owned, and Mrs. Hamby is the OG female entrepreneur. I feel proud and responsible for making sure that what she started is grown in the best way possible and passes along her values and integrity.”
“ Hamby Catering soon grew to be a family business that wove itself into the culture of Charleston and earned the adoration of numerous fans.”
OPENINGS & CLOSINGS
If you’re into the food scene, you’ve heard of John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, MS. Now, he’s bringing Charleston its own big and bad breakfast. Big Bad Breakfast is set to open Sept. 10 at 456 Meeting Street.
Boiled shrimp. Shrimp and grits. Shrimp po’boy. Closed shrimp. The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. at 99 S. Market has closed due to a lease expiration.
Bowties Speakeasy, nestled near Terrace Theatre on James Island, is closing, but straighten up those bowties because chef Alex Lira of the late, lamented Bar Normandy and Philip “surfer Phil” Lawrence are opening Bar George on the site later this year. Lawrence is cooking, but the bar is named after Lira’s late uncle. Bar George will serve beachy cocktails, hot dogs, oysters and summery food items.
450 Pizza Joint on Sullivan’s Island has closed, but early 2020 is going to bring Longboard to the site at 2213 Middle Street. Food will be “island-inspired.”
Because he doesn’t have enough to do, Chef Alex Lira is not only going to be overseeing operations at Bar George (see above) but also will be cooking at Estadio, opening this fall.
CHEF AND STAFF MOVES
Michael Zentner of Newport is the new chef de cuisine at Charleston Grill. He joins Executive Chef Michelle Weaver.
Christian Hunter has been named chef de cuisine at Sorghum & Salt. Hunter has been with the team since April 2018 and the move is a promotion for him.
Photo Credit: Photos by Kelly
The Charleston chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, the female-focused philanthropic group of women in food, beverage and hospitality, is debuting Nothing Like Les Dames Week October 16-20. The week features a series of ticketed events at venues throughout town, ranging from drink tastings to dinners. Visit ldeicharleston.org.
Photo Credit: Chloe Field
The Indigo Road Hospitality Group raised a total of $40,000 for the Homeless to Hope Fund as part of the company’s 10th anniversary celebration. In Charleston, the group includes O-Ku, The Cocktail Club, The Macintosh, Indaco, Oak Steakhouse, Mercantile and Mash, Bar Mash and The Cedar Room.