By William Thrift Photography by John Wrightenberry
When Claussen’s Inn was renovated back in the ‘80’s, some suites for additional businesses were created along the side adjacent to the train tracks. One business to set up shop in the new space was Mr. Friendly’s – purveyor of cookies and sandwiches. In the ‘90’s, a small group of entrepreneurs (eventually including Ricky Mollohan) acquired the shop and transformed it into a full restaurant. They kept the original name because they thought it reflected the general philosophy of what they wanted to do with the place. The group favored hearty fare, so they began offering southern-style (some call it “comfort”) food.
Since then, Mr. Friendly’s has become the complete manifestation of it’s owners’ philosophy of using locally grown, seasonal ingredients to create unique, artisan interpretations of traditional southern dishes. For instance, when you order grilled pork tenderloin, it comes with blackberry ketchup. The mustard-thyme chicken breast is served with green tomato barbeque sauce. The pecan crab cakes are garnished with sherry-cayenne mayonnaise.
So to get what’s become known as “New Southern” food, you don’t have to make plans in advance for a weekend in Charleston to dine at McCrady’s Restaurant, or spend a few days in Atlanta where you’ll visit Restaurant Eugene. You can get New Southern food right here in Five Points at Mr. Friendly’s New Southern Café.
In an effort to expand on some of the finer points of the Mr. Friendly’s experience, Ricky (and a business partner) opened Solstice Kitchen and Wine Bar in Columbia’s blossoming northeast area. The restaurant is named for the changing of the seasons; so diners are treated to a menu that changes, to some degree, every day. Ricky has since become sole proprietor and Executive Chef at Solstice where menu offerings such as seared Hudson Valley foie gras and salmon with a sweet pea mint puree can be described as “New American” cuisine.
The wine lists at Mr. Friendly’s and Solstice are designed to pair perfectly with the menus. Ricky is “obsessed with finding new wines,” and takes great pleasure in acquiring new pairings for new dishes. So with two restaurants under his guidance, his business acumen took over, and he decided he needed a wine shop in order to facilitate and economize shipments of his new discoveries.
Cellar on Greene opened in ’08 just two doors down from Mr. Friendly’s. It’s a wine shop by day, but at night it becomes a place where one can simply sip a glass or enjoy a three-course meal. While the menus differ, the proximity of the two restaurants enables Ricky to consolidate shipments of supplies and ingredients to keep things fresh. Ricky also regularly tweaks the menu at Cellar (similar to Solstice), but has kept the same appetizers (regulars have their favorites, like the truffle-parmesan raw fries).
So now that Ricky has three successful culinary ventures underway, what’s next? Ricky proudly says that his staff are like his family, and as long as they and his customers are happy, then he’s happy and content to keep doing what he’s doing.