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Local restaurateur Steve Carroll dives in with Water Dog Grill

  • Wednesday, October 9, 2013

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His partying days are over, and now it’s time for the real fun. Steve Carroll, former owner of some of Charleston’s most popular bars and musical venues - including the Radio Room, The Warehouse, Band Wagon and Red’s Ice House at Bohicket Marina - is diving into a new chapter in his food and beverage career with the opening of his first family-friendly restaurant, Water Dog Grill, at 1035 Johnnie Dodds Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. This spacious bar and grill boasts a large outdoor space, more than 20 HD televisions, 24 beers on tap, two stages and a full menu.

Carroll started in the food and beverage business busing tables at Serena’s on Coleman Boulevard.

He’d race into the parking lot after an afternoon of surfing, change clothes in his car and go to work.

In the 1980s his parents owned High Tide on the Isle of Palms. He held many positions there, and eventually transitioned over to The Windjammer under the watchful eye of his mentor Bobby Ross, co-owner of the famous watering hole.

“I’ve learned from some of the best,” he said. “And I’ve taken those standards and built on my own.”

Carroll opened his first bar in 1992. The Radio Room was a wild success and a perfect start up for Carroll who lived and played downtown.

He went on to work and run several other venues including Fat Market Cafe, Hound Dogs and Music Farm. And he jumped back into ownership with a live music venue on Dorchester Road called the Band Wagon.

It didn’t take long for folks to see Carroll’s talent. He was soon being courted to become a consultant, and his expertise was sought after all over town.

In fact, just a month after the famous Red’s Ice House opened on Shem Creek, he was brought in to bring the staff and facility up to par. His decade-long transformation of Red’s Icehouse which ended in April 2013, but not before he took Red’s to the number one spot in “on-premises beer sales” in Charleston. When he first began to organize the Red’s operation, the facility was operating at 92 percent alcohol sales and eight percent food sales. Now it is a 50/50 split.

In fact, the restaurant saw tremendous sales increases under his leadership. “The brand ‘Red’s” is incredible,” he said. It can now sell itself.”

“We did a lot of cool events and promotions there and I learned a lot about food and how important it is to customers to have a nice selection to choose from and know the food will be good and consistent each time,” said Carroll.

Carroll will miss Red’s.

He loves the place and the people - most of whom he hired.

Carroll, now a husband and father of two, has trained several managers who worked under him for eight years starting as bussers.

“That was fun to watch and be a part of,” he said.

He has truly molded the music and bar scene of the Lowcountry. And, while working at Red’s, he also became president of the Charleston Restaurant Association Board and has just been reelected for another term. “I’ve been really lucky to work and own some of the best bars and venues in town. I knew I always wanted to own a restaurant where my family could all be together and the timing was perfect. With Water Dog Grill, I am able to bring all the best pieces together including good food, sports, good music in a family friendly environment,” he said.

With risk comes reward, he said. And he took a risk stepping out on his own again.

The Waterdog Grill is located in a shopping plaza in which Celedon and Danco’s are the anchors. He calls the choice to pick the location a fumble in which he jumped on. It is close to his home, he has a great relationship with the other small business owners in the complex and the landlord.

The name, Water Dog Grill, was created by Carroll after a late night on the water fishing. “So many of us who live in the Lowcountry are water dogs. Whether it’s fishing, boating, on the river or at the beach, the water is in our veins. It’s not just a name. It’s a mentality.” said Carroll, who is also on the board of Hospitality Heroes and the College of Charleston Hospitality and Tourism Advisory Board.

Carroll started a social media advertising campaign in which he asked his Facebook friends to “like” the new Water Dog Grill page. He then began asking folks for pictures of their dogs on the water. The images were then transformed to window coverings and are displayed throughout the bar and restaurant. And weekly winners are chosen and put on display as well.

A grand opening is planned for Thursday, Oct. 10 at 4:30 p.m. Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails and town council member Linda Page will be in attendance for the ribbon cutting. The public is invited to attend.

Carroll has an “A-Team” staff, he said. “It’s been humbling that so many people wanted to leave a place where they had salary and benefits to follow me,” he said. “I’ve felt really embraced by the food and beverage industry on every level.”

Carroll is doing things he has never done in the restaurant business. He’s feeding the craft beer craze and has 24 on tap - which is great on the dumpster bill, he said.

And in determining the ever important question of “what we are” he said, The Water Dog Grill will be “all things fun.”

And you can’t have a successful food and beverage venue in the Lowcountry without providing an outdoor area. He took a breezeway that was located next to his new restaurant and made it a part of the space, by partially enclosing it to make outdoor seating. Complete with televisions and a full bar, this area is available to smokers and non-smokers alike, and while you are outside, it feels as cozy as being inside.

Carroll has other irons in the fire, with an eye on opening several other smaller venues in town. In the meantime he’s working closely with the other business owners in the plaza to host promotional events such as an “international pub crawl” for cancer. Other businesses within the plaza include an Italian restaurant, a Japanese restaurant and a Mexican restaurant.

Grand opening

Where: 1035 Johnnie Dodds Boulevard

When: Thursday, Oct. 10, 4:30 p.m.

Details: Open Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until.

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