Black Bean Co. serves up ‘energy food fast’ in The Vista

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Columbia’s farm-to-table movement is here to stay. Charleston-based Black Bean Co. has brought its farm-fresh and fast service concept to The Vista, adding to the district’s growing number of dining options.

“We’re not fast food. We’re energy food fast,” said Marketing Director Benjamin Fleming.

Black Bean Co., named for the superfood, was started by Ellis Grossman in 2010. The 28-year-old entrepreneur was inspired by an encounter at his father’s medical practice when prescription drug representatives would stop by bringing catered food to the office.

“It’s kind of interesting because they are bringing fried chicken and macaroni and cheese,” Grossman said. “It’s like the craziest thing ever.”

That moment resonated with Grossman, and eventually he met up with business partner Joseph Lawlor to develop the menu and concept for Black Bean Co.

The restaurant reflects Grossman’s years of experience in the fast food industry. He got his start at age 15 and was taken under the tutelage of Eli Hyman, owner of Hymans Seafood in Charleston. the At age 19, he was managing the front end of the restaurant and learning lessons in customer service.

“Eli really gave me my start and showed me about … what the customer wants,” Grossman said.

At the same time, Grossman attended the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College. After earning his degree in culinary arts and business, Grossman chose to take a different approach to his career and jump directly into the fast food industry.

Grossman had managed about 20 Bojangles’ restaurants by the age of 21. He also did consulting with Taco Bell. Those experiences challenged him to develop a restaurant that could mix the best of farm-fresh and locally sourced ingredients with a fast-food approach to service.

“We just want to show people that you can eat healthy and it doesn’t have to taste bad and it not be super expensive. It can taste great and be moderately priced,” he said.

Grossman’s food philosophy is based on developing complete meals with unique flavor profiles. The goal is for customers to know they are getting a whole, flavorful meal without the need to cut calories.

“The reason we call it energy food is so that it will powers you throughout the day. It’s based on portion sizing and what your body actually needs versus the meatloaf effect,” he said.

Grossman carries his love of farming  directly into Black Bean Co.’s overall mission. Whether it be ingredients made fresh daily, compostable packaging or the green decor, Grossman finds that it’s important to extend his knowledge and experience of what sustainability can look like in a restaurant.

“It’s really about taking responsibility for the food,” he said.

Beyond taste, Grossman also prides himself on delivering a full customer service experience by building a supportive staff. His people approach to business is what he feels ensures customers receive a great guest experience.

“The reason why I went into the fast food business is because I just thought it was crazy that such a successful business has the angriest people working there,” he said. “I always say my job is to take of the staff and their job is to take care of the customer.”

Columbia’s general manager Donell Griffin has spent the last 20 years in the food industry, taking his first job at McDonalds before graduating to managerial roles and working in the full-service industry. He hopes to connect with the community and understand guests needs to promote Black Bean Co.’s fresh and healthy food concept.

“To get to that niche of being health conscious, people are coming out and looking for healthy food that will keep them energized and not have that heavy load on their stomach at work,” he said.

Black Bean Co.’s menu consist of wraps, salads and soups made with fresh, locally-sourced meat and produce. Vegan and vegetarian options are available, and protein sources include chicken, turkey or shrimp.

Grossman has relationships with several farms in the Charleston area, where he buys produce for his restaurants. Thackeray Farms and Limehouse Produce are two of Black Bean Co.’s main farm producers. Grossman said he plans to reach out to Columbia farmers like City Roots to source The Vista location at 701 Gervais St.

Black Bean Co. offers breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and meals start at around $6. The restaurant also caters, delivers and offers online ordering. Grossman said he plans to continue building up the Columbia location but hopes to open up to four more locations in the Midlands. His 10-year plan envisions more than 500 locations across the United States.

“I want to bring this food across the country and I feel like there’s an extreme need for it,” he said. “I want to be there for the people.”

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