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Carl Sobocinski: Serial Restauranteur

Architect realizes his passion lies in hospitality and then builds a food empire.

Traveling and eating are two of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy visiting new places, exploring local culture, and dining in what are some of the best local restaurants.  More often than not, I am pleasantly surprised.

One of my favorite cities in America is Greenville, South Carolina, which you may have found in just about every article listing the most charming downtowns in America. In fact, I have enjoyed this city so much, I have returned on multiple occasions.

Apparently, I am not alone in my assessment. As a matter of fact, the United States Census Bureau announced Greenville as one of the five fastest growing cities in America.

Tim, via Wikipedia, CC BY 2.0

In addition to a one-of-a-kind “floating” suspension bridge steps from Main Street, Greenville has a terrific array of restaurants, boutiques, art shops, and museums. On each of the three occasions I have visited the city, I’ve enjoyed the street fairs that are well-attended by visitors and locals alike.

There’s the regular Thursday evening live music get-together near the Downtown Hyatt, and the Saturday green market farther down Main Street by the charming and historic Westin Hotel. They are always well-attended with friendly people…and well-stocked beer trucks…another one of my favorite pastimes!

Food Revolution

When it comes to restaurants, Greenville offers every type of cuisine you can imagine, with over 120 choices in downtown alone.  And it wasn’t until recently, while watching CBS This Morning’s Saturday Edition, I learned that one man is responsible for starting the food revolution in Greenville, Mr. Carl Sobocinski, the owner of Table 301 Restaurant Group.

In the early 90s, after graduating from Clemson University, Sobocinski and two friends went into the restaurant business, but soon decided to strike out on his own. A few years later, in November 1997, Carl turned an empty shoe store on Main Street into my favorite Greenville restaurant — Soby’s.

Soon, he had a vision about the future of Greenville, and became involved with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce, leading to new opportunities…and new restaurants, as the city grew. He became involved with the city government, resulting in a no-smoking ban, Sunday alcohol sales (which remains taboo in many other cities), and the creation of the Saturday farmer’s market.

And, soon, there was yet another crowning achievement for Greenville. With his friend, musical artist Edwin McClain, Sobocinski established one of the finest festivals in America known as “Euphoria.” This is a four-day food, wine, and music festival that features wonderful wines, award-winning chefs, and fabulous musicians. The event supports the ever-evolving local arts and culinary community while benefiting local charities.

Today, Table 301 operates multiple dining establishments in downtown Greenville including:

  1. Soby’s, which serves “new South” cuisine
  2. The Lazy Goat which offers Mediterranean-style food
  3. Nose Dive, a gastropub
  4. Passerelle, a French bistro
  5. Southern Pressed Juicery, organic raw juices, smoothies and healthy bites
  6. Jianna, offering modernItalian cuisine
  7. Table 301 Kitchen & Catering, a deli/bakery and catering service
  8. Highway 301 food truck

 

Hooked!

I must admit that I am “hooked” on Soby’s and here are three reasons why:

Soby’s Shrimp & Grits

 

Soby’s Crab Cakes

Soby’s Banana Creme Pie

Their shrimp ‘n grits, crab cakes, and white chocolate banana creme pie are out of this world!  In fact, I will share a little secret with you — you can order a “half ‘n half” —a half order of shrimp ‘n grits served with a half order of crab cakes!

A Lasting Legacy

Sobocinski, now in his early 50s, has no plans to retire, but he is beginning to take Table 301 in a new direction.  As he explained to the Greenville News, “I would love for years down the road the story to be not that they sold Table 301 to some no-face equity firm and made all this money, but they created six other entrepreneurs that have now spread out and it’s like a tree or pyramid that flows down.”

His first step was the recent sale of his Mexican restaurant, Papi’s Tacos, to Papi himself, one of five original employees that remain with the company today.  Papi began as a dishwasher back then and now, thanks to Sobocinski, is fulfilling his lifelong dream as the owner of his namesake establishment.

 

Sobocinski plans on continuing his transition of transferring ownership to his long-time employees, providing them with loans that would otherwise be difficult to obtain, and administrative support. “So what I’ve done is put the word out that if people do want to own their own restaurant, then let’s make an appointment and come and have a conversation about it, because I’m ready to continue to feed that next generation of entrepreneurs.”

He plans on spending more time with his family, the National Restaurant Association, and the Greenville Housing Fund, which addresses the housing shortage in the downtown area. Learn more about Sobocinski and his food empire at table301.com and be sure to take a moment to drool over gastronomic delights shown in the photo gallery.