P+C: The Montford Group breaks into the local food scene with Bluerose Café and Villa 525

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Days after taking ownership of Bluerose Café in West Ashley Jared Jones, the president of restaurants at the Montford Group, worked in the dining room, meeting with vendors, consulting with his business partners and overseeing dishes coming out of the pass.

Changes were being made. The specials board had a list of new dishes like sweet potato home fries with salsa brava, a smoky Spanish dip that’s far away from the Irish roots of original owner Denis O’Doherty. A few tables of regulars, who’d probably been eating at this eclectic café for its entire 14-year history, watched the activity with curious suspicion.

As a server delivered lunch to a nearby table, two diners squinted at their plates as she announced that they were looking at the new fries. “Looks like we’re going to have to find another place,” one diner murmured to the other.

That’s the challenge when taking over a beloved neighborhood spot, particularly one whose success had as much to do with the hospitality and personality of the owner as the food and decor.

But Jones and his partners Jessica Reid and Sunju Patel see the Bluerose as their flagship, one they don’t have to create from scratch that's located in a prime neighborhood with high visibility.

Jones understands the challenge of taking over such a restaurant. “You have to respect the people who’ve been coming here for 10 years. At the same time, we want to open the doors for those who tried it and never came back,” he says. “You have to be thoughtful, humble, and respectful.”

The menu will keep some old favorites — namely the shepherd’s pie, the fish and chips and the fish sandwich — but overall it will move away from O’Doherty’s Irish influences and become an all-day diner with a heavy brunch influence. You can expect to see a classic burger and local ingredients. Jones is sourcing baked goods from Saffron and the Ashley Bakery, eggs from Fili-West Farm, coffee from Black Tap. He seems nothing but confident about this first Montford Group venture.

“The Montford Group is 100 percent based in Charleston but already international,” says Jones. Patel has hotels in India, their branding expert is based in Argentina with multiple offices around the world, and their intent is to create experiences that are not already available in Charleston. Jones tackled his first big restaurant project, Pawpaw, with his father Keith Jones, who also owns Amen Street and Stars.

The Montford Group’s next project is transforming the clubhouse of the Thunderguards Motorcycle Club on Meeting Street into Villa 525, a full-service restaurant. “Tapas is not the right word,” says Jones, “but it will have small, shareable plates, approachable pricing, incredible flavors and techniques.”

The partners figured it would take two years for the building projects in that part of the peninsula to be completed, but Jones says they’ve spoken with area contractors who claim it will take six months before that part of the peninsula gentrifies from empty warehouses and low-income housing into upscale apartments and new construction homes. "We'll open with a neighborhood around us," says Jones. 

What sets Montford apart, Jones says, is their approach to running a business. The three millennials will guide projects from real estate procurement stage to concept to final execution. “Even branding,” says Jones. “Why isn’t someone already doing this? It seems so natural. And then we thought if we doing it for others why aren’t we doing it for ourselves?”

Jones is somewhat of an armchair philosopher and approaches business from a people-over-profit perspective. “Hospitality is probably one of the most mismanaged types of businesses in the world,” he says, promising that the Montford Group will set a new path forward for hospitality management. In light of bad management practices that have led to rampant sexual harassment in the industry, it seems the Montford Group might have picked the right time to shake things up.

By: Stephanie Barna

Jessica Reid