Photography by John Wrightenberry
Once upon a time, the section of Main Street from the State Capitol building north toward Elmwood was exactly that – one of, if not the main streets of Columbia. Main Street and some adjacent blocks featured a variety of shops, markets, restaurants, and other businesses frequented by people from all over the Midlands in the days before suburban sprawl begat places like Harbison’s Columbiana Centre and the Northeast’s Sandhills retail area. Main Street was the place one went to while away an afternoon of window shopping or take in a matinee at the Fox before deciding which establishment would satisfy the evening’s epicurean pangs.
But the one constant in life is that all things change. And so it is with Main Street. Over the decades from that bygone era, people have relocated and found new places to spend their time and money. Many businesses followed them, or folded their hands altogether, like Tapp’s and Lourie’s. Leftover spaces took on practical tenants – law offices, banks, utilities – still vital to the local economy, but lacking the vim and vigor of retail and restaurants. Although some have managed to survive the exodus, King’s Jewelers and Tronco’s for instance, most of the Main Street corridor has remained a shell of what it once was – that is, until recently.
What goes around comes around. As the Vista began booming in the late ‘90’s, Main Street began to see a trickle-over effect with the occasional business venture. Arts patrons have helped with the Columbia Museum of Art’s galleries and plaza. Sheraton Columbia Downtown Hotel renovated one of the grand old buildings. Everyone eagerly awaits the opening of the Mast General Store at Main and Taylor, and the Nick is relocating into the same block. A wave of vitality has been slowly building for Main Street, and Columbians seem poised to catch it.
One local who is enthusiastic to ride the crest is Todd Mattocks. In November 2010, an opportunity came his way to become vested in the Main Street revival. Among the few businesses that had hung on during the lean years, Hennesse’s restaurant was up for sale.
Twenty-seven years ago, Hennessy’s caught the tail end of Main Street’s heyday, opening in the lower floors of an historic, three-story building on the corner of Main and Blanding. It built a solid reputation for fine dining, and became a standby of the business and legislative set who wanted a nice, convenient place to unwind or entertain.
Todd wanted in on the new vision for Main Street, and he literally closed the deal within a few days. Although born in Heidelburg, Germany, Todd calls himself a Newberry native. He learned to cook German food from his grandmother. As he was growing up, he delved into French cuisine, working with favorites like escargot, veal, scallops, and tuna. He developed a taste for fine food, recognizing early on that sauces really distinguish one chef from another and can make the difference between a fabulous dish and a merely mediocre one. Of course he adheres to the famous French cooking adage: butter times trois.
Todd says that, with a few exceptions, the typical lifespan of a restaurant is about twenty-five years, and Hennessy’s is a perfect example. That represents about a generation of patrons, and in a restaurant that age, the atmosphere usually reflects the prior generation. After that, a restaurant typically needs an overhaul in design, layout, and décor in order to stay current. While Todd plans to maintain Hennessy’s downstairs and mezzanine dining room layout, he plans to upgrade the spirit of the restaurant, patterning the transformation on something like a rustic, eclectic Charleston establishment. Art works by Brice Dickson on consignment will adorn the walls giving the restaurant “a gallery feel.” Live music enhances the upstairs bar area, lending it a casual air. He eventually wants to add a balcony overlooking Main Street for outdoor dining.
Todd appreciates Hennessy’s reputation for hosting company functions, and recognizes that many patrons have been introduced that way and have returned for a destination dinner or to nosh before an in-town event. He also hopes to amend the clientele list by utilizing social network marketing techniques to reach diners who frequent hot spots like the Vista.
Todd describes his new vision of Hennessy’s as “superior fine dining,” which consists of excellent food, great customer service, and competitive prices. He strives to make the Hennessy’s experience exceed people’s expectations.