South Carolina chef joins St. James, restaurant to reopen

Published 12:17 am Saturday, October 25, 2014

The St. James Hotel is getting some Lowcountry flair.

South Carolina chef Carlos Brown has been brought on to help revitalize the downtown landmark.

Brown promised the Selma City Council big things during Thursday’s work session.

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“The entrees at the restaurant will blow your mind,” Brown said.

Brown was introduced by Verhonda Sercey with Strand Development Company, which took over day-to-day operations of the struggling hotel in July.

The company is under contract to receive about $4,000 a month for managing the St. James, or 3 percent of gross revenues, whichever is greater.

However, the hotel has been losing money since the beginning of the year.

The council approved paying about $15,000 in hotel operating costs, including salaries and utilities, during its Oct. 14 council meeting.

Earlier this summer, the city transferred approximately $85,000 to the hotel’s budget for various expenses.

Several of the expenses were one-time costs as Strand works to update the hotel. The St. James is also trying to cut costs by doing their own laundry, adding online reservations and introducing an improved key system.

Strand is still working to improve Internet access and replace the hotel’s mattresses, Sercey said.

“We need more people in the restaurant. We need more banquets. We certainly need the rooms,” Sercey said.

The hotel’s restaurant is scheduled to reopen the first week of November.

Councilman Cecil Williamson asked when the hotel would turn a profit so that the city would only owe the company their management fees.

Sercey didn’t provide an exact date but said she is working on a budget and would have that information during Tuesday’s council meeting. She said the hotel would need more updates like high-definition televisions and new mattresses to compete with other hotels in town.

“[The budget would be] based on us getting the things we need to have a viable hotel,” she said.

Williamson said he didn’t see how the city could keep paying the hotel’s operating costs.

“The main thing I’m interested in — the city cannot continue to subsidized the hotel at $20,000 a month,” Williamson said.

The hotel’s history dates back more than 150 years. During the Civil War, the hotel was occupied by union troops at the Battle of Selma.

Following the war, Benjamin Sterling Turner, the first African-American elected to U.S. Congress, operated the hotel.

Legendary outlaws Frank and Jesse James reportedly stayed in the hotel in 1881.

In the late 1800s, the hotel closed. About 100 years later, local investors purchased the hotel, raised several million dollars and officially reopened its doors in 1997.