Unless The Farmbar Provisional applies for and receives an operating permit, this Friday’s spaghetti dinner may mark the second-to-last time the ad hoc café is allowed to cook and serve food.
The roving culinary concept last month settled into a shipping container parked at 1600 Meeting Street, announcing a standing schedule of daily lunchbox pick-ups and twice-weekly meal service. It celebrated its opening with a menu featuring duck fat hash and roast chicken.
“The Farmbar has not received a permit to operate,” S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control spokesman Jim Beasley explains. “The facility did, however, run a special promotion after contacting the department.”
As state law defines it, a special promotion is conducted on private property by a private business promoting a good or service. Businesses may hold four one-day special promotions over a 12-month period; the clock starts ticking at the first event.
According to Beasley, The Farmbar was approved to hold its third special promotion on Friday.
“They’re using up their promotional events pretty quickly,” Beasley says.
But the fast pace doesn’t worry founder Tara Derr Webb, who’s looking to schedule The Farmbar’s fourth special promotion during the Charleston Wine & Food Festival. She’s confident she can devise a creative solution which will allow for continued food service.
“We are truly WAY-out-of-the box renegades trying to create an innovative experience,” Webb e-mails. “Despite our raw beginnings, we’ve had tremendous loyal supporters who are patient, enthusiastic and forgiving. They have become part of our evolution and narrative, which is quite special.”
Webb declined to elaborate on her plans, but revealed DHEC yesterday morning approved the relocation of The Farmbar’s kitchen from the shipping container to a permanent structure on the property. Webb says the move will pave the way for a “more robust kitchen…and potentially an ABL license for wine and beer. The FARMBAR installation outside of the building will then have more room for seating, market and retail.”
The move is scheduled to occur by the end of next month.
Without an operating permit or special promotion clearance, retailers are only allowed to “dispens(e) non-potentially hazardous beverages or non-potentially hazardous prepackaged food,” meaning food prepared in a permitted commercial facility and delivered in a hermetically-sealed package.
On non-special promotion days, The Farmbar typically serves coffee and baked goods: Tuesday’s meals included Brown’s Court Bakery schnecken and scones for breakfast; Brown’s Court focaccia for lunch and Brown’s Court focaccia and pie for supper.
“David (Schnell) from Brown’s Court is working closely with us to provide special offerings that will be posted the day before, in addition to a few surprise pop-ups from local restaurants and food trucks,” Webb writes.
South Carolina code lists a number of venues which are exempt from the rules governing retail food establishments, including churches; private homes; bed-and-breakfasts; permanent concession stands selling pretzels, popcorn, sno-cones “and similar food”; bake sales; vending machines and mobile food units selling prepackaged food. But Beasley says DHEC is treating The Farmbar as a retail establishment, although he allows that the agency hasn’t previously dealt with any similarly-structured food vendors.
“We will never be a mise en place establishment (which is not for everyone),” Webb writes, “but despite our circuitous journey…our hope is to do something quietly extraordinary with a lot of freestyle and very fine, accessible, meaningful food.”