For the first time in 16 years, Sal Parco slept in until 9 a.m. He didn’t have to go into his diner, The Boulevard Diner, because it had officially been closed and sold.
It was bittersweet for Sal. Many of his long-time regulars were sad. Some were crying. Others wanted pictures with Sal on the last day.
But all good things must come to an end. And while The Boulevard Diner has seen its last day, Parco’s three remaining restaurants – The Mustard Seed, Longpoint Grill and Village Bakery – are on fire.
“It was time to focus all my energy on those.”
You know you’re successful when the brand for your business is yourself.
But Sal Parco is too bashful to admit that and prefers to just plug away, keeping his restaurants running efficiently and serving up great food.
He’s best known for opening the Mustard Seed over 20 years ago. Its doors opened in 1994 in an old tex-mex location at Sea Island Shopping Center with just seven tables. All Parco wanted to do was serve healthy food at a reasonable price. Mount Pleasant wasn’t ready for a full vegetarian menu, but healthy was a hit.
At one point through the years, he owned nine restaurants and juggled over 200 employees.
A long time ago, he was given some advise from a very well-to-do regular customer and he took it. The man told him, “Buy the dirt your restaurant sits on. Quit renting.” So Parco did.
The Dine With Sal Restaurant group began gobbling up real estate for establishments from Mount Pleasant to Summerville. Parco also dabbled in residential real estate.
But trying to be the face of that many establishments and being on-site to ensure everything ran smoothly and exactly as he wished was impossible.
So he and his wife Andrea decided to scale back, tighten up and let some things go.
Shortly after the announcement that The Boulevard Diner property and adjacent office building had been sold, the news came out that the vacant Uno Mas property was going with them.
The old Sette restaurant property was sold last September, and the new owners are working up plans to open another restaurant in its place.
The revenue from the sale of those three properties will be put into renovating and updating The Mustard Seed, Long Point Grill and Village Bakery, Parco’s three remaining restaurants. The renovations will bring behind-the-scenes changes such as banking, broker and accounting partnerships, as well as an updated, mobile-friendly website that will launch in March. Parco also plans to get back to his favorite charitable efforts.
The business climate in Mount Pleasant is always changing, and to remain successful, Sal is constantly gauging it, Andrea explained.
He is focusing his vision on making these three ventures the best they can be, she said.
“Pleasing the customer is what Sal enjoys,” she said. “He was spending more time putting out fires and traveling the road from restaurant to restaurant, that he wasn’t spending time with his customers. Something had to give.”
Sal is shy but, believe it or not, he is in his element not just in the kitchen but walking the dining room catching up with the regulars, meeting new customers and making sure everyone is happy.
“My customers are everything. They become family. The people here are the nicest people, and they’ve been so gracious to me,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky.”
He attributes much of his success to his business recipe on being in his establishments, overseeing things and giving the customer what they want. “I told my chefs, ‘If a customer asks for something and we have it, you better cook it.’ You have to give them what they want. We’re in the hospitality business and in the south on top of that. It’s an easy formula, but a lot don’t get it,” he said.
Parco went to culinary school at the CIA in New York and business/hospitality management school at FIU. He worked up to 90 hours a week for 12 years in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., for a corporation that owned fine dining restaurants. He had a stint selling seafood in New England, and co-owned and ran restaurants in Detroit.
Going out on his own was a leap. But the landing in Charleston was just right.
He opened on the corner in Sea Island Shopping Center. His rent was $800 a month. He was working 80 hours a week and became so successful he expanded. He took naps between the lunch and dinner shifts on a bench in the restaurant. “When it’s your business, you do what you’ve got to do.”
He was married to his restaurant. So it was no wonder that he didn’t get married for the first time until he was 50 years old. Andrea was fresh off a divorce and raising her three kids, so she too was busy. It was a perfect match. Today she handles the business and marketing side of the business.
Sal and Andrea have hired Dan Sweeney of Stumphouse Architecture & Design, who is finalizing plans and working with town officials for approval of the renovations and additions. For example, The Mustard Seed and Longpoint Grill will get new outdoor seating areas. It’s a far cry from a new coat of paint, Andrea said. The Mustard Seed will have a cozy, rustic type of feel and will feature a new and improved entrance at what is now considered the back door. Longpoint Grill will get a new logo and look that captures the feel of “date night,” despite its busy location by the port.
Village Bakery won’t be ignored and they will be giving it some well deserved love. Village Bakery is getting a new roof and flooring and extended hours are coming, so customers can enjoy a dessert and nightcap.
Renovations at all three locations are in progress. Andrea said the establishments will be closed as few days as possible while work is being done.
Sal considers this business decision a chance for him to recharge. He said he has no doubt he’ll come full circle and add to his number of restaurants one day. But for now, he’s plugging back in to what he does best.
To learn more or keep up with the renovation progress, visit boulevarddiners.com.