CHEF BRANDON CARTER: Leading Savannah’s food scene one restaurant at a time


There won’t be any parades, there won’t be any holidays, there won’t be any plaques put up somewhere in Savannah marking the occasion, but it will be a big deal nonetheless. Summer 2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of what I’ve been calling our culinary renaissance for quite a while. 

Some of our best-and most popular-restaurants opened in the Summer of 2014. Most are not only still open but thriving. It was the beginning of the modern food scene around here. I don’t think anyone could dispute that.

In that time, we’ve seen all kinds of people and personalities enter the race in search of a lane that they could be successful in. Some great talents have come and gone. Some have decided to stay and make Savannah their home with plans to help our food scene not only grow but thrive from the inside out.

One of those talents is Brandon Carter, executive chef, and owner of quite possibly Savannah’s best restaurant, Common Thread. In the three years they’ve been on the scene at Abercorn and 37th, they’ve carved out a solid niche for locals and visitors looking for that quintessential modern-Southern dining experience. Brandon and his entire staff are passionate, focused, and consistent. They’ve been rewarded for that execution. In 2022, Bon Appetit named them among the 50 Best New Restaurants in America. Well deserved.

It would have been easy to sit on that and call it a day. After all, operating one restaurant is not for the faint of heart. But Brandon had a vision some years ago—a vision he says he largely kept to himself but shared occasionally with others.  

The Carters’ blossoming empire of restaurants is currently at three. There’s Wildflower Cafe at the Jepson Museum and the relatively new Strange Bird casual concept in Savannah’s Victorian District. If you include FARM Bluffton, the concept that started it all for the Carters in this region, then it is four. Oh yeah, and then there’s a food truck, which stays very busy.

“We’ve got a few more things in the works over the next few years.” Brandon tells me.

It’s hard to be surprised. But if there is anything Brandon is adamant about sharing regarding his journey and expansion of their footprint in the area, it’s the fact that he’d be dead in the water without the staff he and his wife Jessica have surrounded themselves with.

Even before the conversation we had for this column, Brandon has always been about putting his people out in front of him, almost demanding that they get the attention and respect they deserve for allowing the visions to not only become reality but reach the levels they have.

We’ve mentioned the reputation Common Thread has earned, but really it’s the others as well, including FARM back in Bluffton, which remains one of that city’s best eateries. They are all fantastic and consistent restaurants, which is incredibly hard to pull off in a city this size. Ask anyone who has tried.

When he’s in one of his kitchens, his intense facial expressions might get him a tryout as a linebacker with the Georgia Bulldogs. I’ve seen it more than once. The first time I met him, I was intimidated, there is no question. But I’ve since come to understand the focus that is required to execute at the levels Brandon and his staff(s) do. I’ve also come to understand exactly how they can oversee a staff that has reached 90 employees and still be as sharp on the edges as they are, really across the board.

“Without the Opies and Daves and Shanas and Libbys…” he begins but trails off, knowing that for as much as he’d like to name all 90 employees, we didn’t have time for that.

“They make it happen every single day.”

He offers that there is a humility that everyone that works with him carries daily as a foundation for that success.

“It’s easy to start believing that you are more successful than you are,” he says. But that doesn’t happen in his kitchens or his dining rooms. After the quality of the food, of course, one of the most popular sentiments about Common Thread is that there is no arrogance permeating through the dining room. As focused as Brandon can be, that attitude starts at the top. This is where you get to see who Brandon Carter really is.

“I care about how people are doing,” he says, when asked about his ability to not only attract great talent but keep it here in Savannah.

“We have a mantra, it’s people, product, profit.” Yes, he’s the boss and everyone knows that, but he makes it more than clear to anyone they bring into their kitchens that they want to tap into their creativity and execution. Brandon’s kitchens aren’t about hiring people to do things exactly as he wants it done. These kitchens are about letting creatives be creative, with some guidelines, of course.

“I am as hands on as I can be,” he says. “I love collaboration, but I let them (his kitchens) operate.”

“The more buy in, the easier the lift.”

He cites as an example, their Strange Bird concept which started as the food truck we mentioned earlier. They offered burgers, chicken, tacos, burritos and other fairly simple bites. But Brandon is quick to point out that the discussion about making the truck concept into a brick-and-mortar location came fairly early. Development was delayed by that whole ‘2020 thing’ but Strange Bird Savannah is the result of the input and dedication of Daniel Aranza and Felipe Vera. 

If you pull it up on the Strange Bird website, Daniel and Felipe are the Strange Bird Team—a two man show. We all know the support staff behind it, of course, but it is a classic example of empowering your staff. I don’t know how soon Felipe came on board, but I recall seeing him in the kitchen at FARM almost at the beginning, back in 2016.

Speaking of FARM, if you look at their staff list now, 12 of 15 top positions are filled by women. It doesn’t take hours of research to know that it wasn’t all that long ago you’d struggle to find that type of empowerment in this particular industry. Heck, depending on who you ask, you will find out that it is still a problem ‘out there.’ It’s clearly not a problem here.

“That’s where the magic happens. The ladies and guys on our team,” Brandon says.

There’s been plenty of that magic over the last eight years since FARM opened in Bluffton, and there is a lot more in store. The bites at Common Thread, Wildflower Cafe and Strange Bird prove that every single day. The leadership is in place and there is little to no doubt they will make it happen.

To be continued…

About The Author

Jesse Blanco

One of the most recognizable personalities in the Savannah/Hilton Head Island television market, Jesse Blanco is sometimes called "Savannah's Anthony Bourdain." His 'Eat It and Like It' show has become a major regional brand in the foodie world.

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