It has been a long 14 months since a fire closed Manny’s Neighborhood Grill.
Most of the employees had to find other jobs. Multiple insurance battles had to be fought. And a dumpster was parked outside where diners’ cars used to sit.
But last week, the Northbridge institution had a soft and quiet reopening, welcoming all walks of life to once again come, sit, eat Greek food, have a drink, and hash out the day’s happenings.
On Wednesday, the day after the General Election, all stripes of people sat at the new bright and welcoming community table: a sheriff, two state legislators from both sides of the political divide, a salesmen, and so on.
Gretchen Rhodes had never been to Manny’s before. A Mt. Pleasant resident was in West Ashley with her husband for a doctor’s appointment.
“It’s light and airy, with more of a social scene than I’ve observed at most places,” observed Rhodes, an interior decorator who splits time professionally between the Lowcountry and Washington, D.C. “There’s a real sense of community.”
Outside, the family restaurant has changed little. Same sign. Same building. The windows don’t have as many signs and posters in them.
But inside, everything’s changed, thanks to the architect and interior designer brought in to brighten up the place.
Gone are the mini-televisions at each table along the walls, replaced with tufted, long banquettes where tables can be pushed together to handle bigger parties instead of the four-top booths that had been there since 1993.
Lighter, neutral hues adorn the walls where new wide-screen televisions now hang. A modern-style chandelier hangs from a partially dropped ceiling. Family portraits from the old country are proudly hung on the walls, along with several themed paintings.
There’s even a community table a few steps from a full bar, replete with new lighting and white tile backsplash wall.
It just seems bigger, more open, brighter. More … Manny’s.
Few changes have been made to the menu. Pizzas, gyros, salads, sandwiches, and Greek specialties still dominate. (It should be noted that the light sauce slathered on the new sliced lamb plate should probably be illegal, it’s so addictive.)
The kitchen had been spared in the fire, so few changes happened behind the back wall, which now has contemporary slices of grey’d wood along its fascia.
Owner Michael Stavrinakis won’t say how much was spent bringing the restaurant back from the ashes. But he would hint.
“Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said, shaking his head, equally spinning from effort and excitement.
Perseverance has been a Stavrinakis family trait since his father Manny repatriated to the states, Charleston in particular, and opened diner after diner across the Lowcountry. Downtown. Rivers Avenue. Savannah Highway.
And finally Manny’s to the Northbridge area, which has since spawned restaurants elsewhere through franchising and plain old expansion.
Stavrinakis tried to place as many West Ashley employees at his North Charleston spot to keep them in the family, despite the hit to labor costs. Others he helped place at restaurants owned by friends.
Now, he’s working feverishly with his current wait staff to make sure every new and old customer has a great next time at Manny’s.
But why make the effort to return to the same location along Old Town Road? Every time he’d pick up a paper, there was another glitch in the West Ashley revitalization effort to offset every step forward.
“This is my home,” said Stavrinakis. “I’ve always lived here. I’ve always worked here. I’ve always had family here.”
A few blocks away is the house where as an adult he shared with his dad and brother, state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston), after their mom passed away. He remembers finding his father passed away in the kitchen, about to take his morning medication.
That didn’t stop him, so a fire may be small potatoes. (Small potatoes, perfectly crisped, covered in Greek spices potatoes, mind you.)
One of his restaurant’s neighbors, Mark Cumins, is glad to have him back. Cumins co-owns TBonz with Jerry Scheer, which opened a few doors down in the same strip mall in 1989, four years before Manny’s.
“I think it’s great Mike and Manny’s are back; they were missed,” said Cumins. “It’s a good thing.”
Northbridge’s TBonz was Scheer and Cumin’s fourth restaurant at the time, a restaurant group that now includes 24 restaurants across the South, Homegrown Hospitality Group (HHG), which has made the apartment building across the street from the strip mall its corporate headquarters.
Both Cumins and Stavrinakis like what they see happening out their front windows, as acclaimed developers Fasion continues to upgrade the shopping center across the street and City Hall seems to have gotten serious about revitalizing West Ashley.
Let’s all hope everything is as bright outside Manny’s as it is inside.

Pin It on Pinterest