Rob Bouton finds authenticity and community in Queen Street Grocery

By Shelley Hill Young

Rob Bouton, who grew up in Greenville, worked as a “starving actor” in New York for a while and loved ducking into the bodega on his corner. It was part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

So after a stint in Atlanta, when Rob decided he wanted to relocate to Charleston, he was attracted to Queen Street Grocery, which was built in 1922 and claims to be the oldest corner store in town. It wasn’t for sale, but he introduced himself to the owners and later when the opportunity came along, he bought it in 2012.

Rob isn’t a trained chef, but he loves food. “I love what food does for people. I love how food brings people together,” he says enthusiastically. He worked to expand the menu, which features build- your-own crepes, breakfast sandwiches and omelets, and to bring in local produce and bread.

“That is just a cool way to support local, but it also elevates the game,” he says. “It’s just legit.”

The store, which is on Queen and Logan streets two blocks north of Broad, probably once served as the pharmacy for Roper Hospital when it was across the street. It’s been a video poker parlor, a convenience store and an incorporated grocery store. Today, you can pick up breakfast or lunch, a newspaper, some batteries or a bottle of Westbrook Brewing’s rare Mexican Cake Stout.

“There’s joy in that randomness,” Rob says.

Sit at the counter at Queen Street Grocery on any given day and you’ll see people from all walks of life come in the door: a nanny with a toddler, a touring musician, college kids, tourists, longtime neighbors who have been stopping in for years.

Glennon Wagner, one of the Queens who works the cash register, says it’s a safe haven for college students. “You don’t feel like you’re being judged,” she says.

It’s the type of place that remained open during the snowstorm in January. TV shows have been shot there. Bill Murray has been known to visit. Matthew Morrison, best known for his role on “Glee,” stopped by recently. There’s an Instagram photo to prove it.

“Stuff like that makes this place so much more than a corner store,” Rob says. Hence the tagline: “Not your average corner store.”

And Rob is probably not your average corner store owner. His first job was at Chick-fil-A. He’s played a coffee barista on “Dawson’s Creek,” a press agent in “Leatherheads” and Tony Dinapoli on “Second Generation Wayans.” He continues to pursue acting roles.

In Queen Street Grocery, Rob has found authenticity and a spirit of community.

“It’s so fulfilling owning this place,” Rob says. “It’s a place where everyone is welcome.”

“People come to Charleston to go to FIG and to go to Husk and they discover Queen Street Grocery,” Rob says. “I think it’s the coolest place in town.”