15 Jan 2016
Seasoned chef Marc Collins never dreamed he’d be king of the kitchen one day — let alone two at one time.
By JENNA-LEY JAMISON, Photos by JAMES STEFIUK
His childhood plans had his eye on the sky and his heart on one day piloting an Air Force plane. But fate proved more powerful with an entirely different future planned for both him and the Charleston community.
He currently boasts an executive chef title for Circa 1886 and Kitchen 208 restaurants in the Holy City’s downtown food melting pot. At Kitchen 208 in particular, he said he maintains a team of five or six cooks “as well as a dishwasher or two.”
Both eateries are part of Charming Inns, a Charleston-based and family-owned operation of various historic inns and restaurants.
Circa 1886 opened on Wentworth Street in May 2013, with Kitchen 208 — named after its specific Lowcountry address just a half mile and 10-minute walk down on King Street — opening its doors a month later.
But even before the public was invited to dine inside Kitchen 208, Collins was working behind the scenes to bring the facility to life, planning the kitchen layout and squaring away flavorful menu items, which constantly change.
“We keep evolving the menu as we go,” he said.
Collins is also co-owner of Kitchen 208, sharing the head business role with two others: Richard Widman, founder of Charming Inns — started in 1982 — and Mark Severs, manager of Circa 1886.
The 18-year veteran of the career field said he found himself in the quaint Southern city in 2001, when he was recruited to take on Circa’s head chef position. The rest was history as he quickly got to work tantalizing the taste buds of town residents and tourists alike.
He finds it humorous to think that in his early schooling days the culinary world was far from his mind — though Collins did complete a chef apprenticeship on a private yacht at age 16.
“I got into this on a whim,” he said. “I went with several friends to vocational school for culinary arts and found out I really liked it a lot, so I just stuck with it.”
Over the years, he worked alongside established chefs, including David Spadafore, who earned a gold medal for his skills in Frankfurt, Germany’s Culinary Olympics. Collins served under Spadafore in his hometown of Erie, Penn.
“All the chefs I worked for were stellar at what they did, and I learned quite a bit from each one of them,” he said.
Also a graduate of the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, Collins gained first-hand field experience following his schooling, from a gig at the Fairmount Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. He worked there prior to uprooting to the Palmetto State.
At Kitchen 208, Collins keeps customers returning with his fresh, healthy approach to mealtime.
“Everything is made from scratch,” he said. And ingredients stem from local businesses, including fresh bread from Brown’s Court Bakery on St. Phillip’s Street.
The restaurant caters to the breakfast and lunch crowd and offers more than just the staple favorites.
“I’ve tried to come up with unique items that anyone can enjoy—not just another sandwich, but something well thought out, yet very approachable,” he said.
Widman's wife Linn Lesesne, co-owner of Circa 1886 and head of public relations/sales for Charming Inns, described Kitchen 208's dishes as “traditional and whimsical.”
But contrary to Circa 1886's upscale, fine dining atmosphere, Kitchen 208 maintains a more casual, laid-back setting. The semi-covered patio — complete with tall, red umbrellas — contributes to the eatery’s relaxing nature, as do the beer and wine menu options.
“It’s a great place to come and eat and relax while watching the shoppers walk up and down King Street,” Collins said.
And patrons won’t break the bank after a good meal at the site. Collins said food items are priced “around the $8-$9 range.”
His creative spin on classic dishes has resulted in Kitchen 208’s two most popular sandwiches, the Smokey Joe and Turkey Shoot — both meats smoked in-house. But sandwiches aren’t just lunchtime favorites (served weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) at Kitchen 208. Collins said the Cobblestone — a compilation of egg, arugula, gruyere cheese, lemon mayo and caramelized bacon piled high on a seeded bun — is a hot breakfast commodity.
And don’t worry if you wake up late on the weekend craving a waffle or frittata after morning hours; Kitchen 208 will satisfy that appetite with its weekend brunch menu available 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. And it’s never too early to pop some “bubbly.” Try a mimosa, house wine or specialty sake Bloody Mary garnished with okra and candied bacon. The $4 drink is unique in that it’s blended with rice wine (sake) instead of Vodka. But it’s not the only alcoholic drink with a sake base. Kitchen 208 also provides sake-based cocktails priced $8 and up.
Additional Kitchen 208 “big favorites,” Collins said, include the Belle-Gem, a buttermilk fried chicken and bacon waffle with lettuce, tomato, mustard and Swiss cheese, and the Quinoa Salad, plated with feta cheese and garden fresh veggies coated in a Mediterranean vinaigrette.
With such a variety of menu items to offer, it’s no surprise Collins is a favorite around town. He even received a prestigious award in his own name in 2010. It was given to him by the Charleston Wine & Food Festival he founded a decade ago. While Collins created the "Marc Collins Chef Award" to honor other local chefs, it was finally his turn.
“I get the honor of handing it out to another culinary leader in this great city of ours,” he said.
Collins considers the award “most dear” to him.
208 King St., Charleston