It's 3 a.m. and the band's finished its last set. Or maybe you're wired after an epic session at the Jen Library. Either way, you're stumbling around downtown looking for sustenance.
Perhaps your appetite is set on something a bit more nutritious than the ubiquitous pizza and hot dogs, maybe with a dash of sriracha. Better yet if it happens to be gluten-free, vegetarian and hella cheap.
So muster up your inner compass and head to the west end of Broughton Street, where Spudnik cheerfully serves up fresh-baked potatoes until 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
For around six bucks, you can choose from standard Russet or orange sweet, and pile it high with all the usual fixin's — and plenty of unusual ones, too.
"It was kind of a revelation when I realized you could put just about anything on a potato," says proprietor Andrew Wanamaker, who launched Spudnik at 416 W. Broughton a few weeks ago and is already drawing in the late night noshers.
Spudnik opens at 11 a.m., so plenty of sober people are finding their way in for lunch, snacks and dinner, too.
Wanamaker says that while most customers go for the Classic (a Russet loaded with cheddar cheese, sour cream, butter and chives), others are foraying into other menu offerings like The Athenian (another Russet with feta cheese, roasted red pepper hummus, olives and capers) and The Sugar Mama (a sweet potato Thanksgiving paradise of toasted almonds, cinnamon butter and marshmallows.)
That's right: It's all taters, all the time.
The idea sprouted a few years ago when Wanamaker was helping his best friend, John Croley, clean out another Broughton Street storefront for Croley's new venture, Planet Fun. Among the detritus, Wanamaker found a vintage box that once contained frozen twice-baked cheddar potatoes. Though the box he now refers to as "the holy of holies" only contained some broken G.I. Joe dolls, it piqued his interest. And his appetite.
"All I wanted was a huge, twice-baked potato and there was nowhere," he remembers.
Sensing that he wasn't alone in his hankering for a loaded spud, he soon signed a lease and began a year of tearing out and building up the space, including setting $835 worth of pennies into the floor. He designed everything, working with the 400 square feet to create sleek booths and an economical kitchen with clean angles.
The Connecticut native also happened to be working on his Masters of Architecture at SCAD at the time, making him something of a poster child for innovation and unexpected application of learned skills.
The tight business model is also something Wanamaker hit upon at SCAD. While working on a branding campaign for a BMW dealership, he realized that simplicity is key.
"Successful brands do one thing very well, and they do it first," he says.
Though he doesn't see himself working in front of computer all day long as required by the profession, he vouches that "architecture is the best education I could have chosen. It teaches you a whole different way of thinking."
Sustainability figures prominently into SCAD's architecture program, and Wanamaker translated that philosophy on every level for Spudnik, from the repurposing of all those pennies to the product itself.
"It takes sixty gallons of water to grow a pound of potatoes and it takes 6,000 to grow one pound of beef," he points out.
But no worries, carnivores: For an extra $1.50, you can top any of Spudnik's potatoes with a fistful of bacon. Wanamaker is working on sourcing it locally and says that other options are coming, like sautéed mushrooms and onions.
Tucked between a pawn shop and a convenience store, Spudnik is bound to bring a bit of action to this bald end of Broughton across from the courthouse garage. The eatery is a few steps down from Elev8ted clothing shop, and a new dance club is slated to open in the coming weeks, giving students, tourists and locals even more reason to meander past Montgomery. Wanamaker hopes the new commerce will inspire the city to speed up its scheduled facelift.
"I'd like to help reinvigorate this block," he says. "A bike rack would be a great place to start."
In the meantime, Spudnik is walking distance from dozens of bars, several dorms, many hotels and plenty of offices full of hungry people — facts that did not escape Wanamaker's architectural site analysis skills.
He thinks the low-impact concept could take off in other cities, and judging from the steady lunch rush and late-night pile-ins, he could be right.
Spudnik just may rocket the simple potato's reputation into something stellar.
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