March 13 and 14, 2015

What could be better than springtime in the South? We’re heading to the classic American seaside city of Charleston, South Carolina for two nights and two days of discovery: beautiful architecture, historic charm, and amazing food!

Our event program will kick off first thing on the morning of Friday March 13, and will wrap up with a final night party on Saturday March 14. (Note: when making travel arrangements, plan to arrive in Charleston the night of March 12th so you don’t miss any of the programming the following morning. Departures should be planned for Sunday March 15.)



Biscuit and Bloody Mary Breakfast

We kick off our two-day Experience with a welcome breakfast at one of Charleston’s loveliest homes, hosted by two of the town’s loveliest Southern belles, Mariana Hay and Rhett Outten, whose family-owned business Croghan’s Jewel Box has been around for more than a century. Enjoy homemade biscuits to die for by Carrie Morey, owner of the famed Callie’s Charleston Biscuits, and sip on a Bloody Mary crafted by one of the South’s most recognized and respected bartenders, Jayce McConnell of Edmund’s Oast restaurant.


Speaker Session: Mayor Joe Riley

Joe Riley has been called the Mayor of the United States, and for good reason. His tenure as Mayor of Charleston for more than 40 years has earned him the respect of civic leaders around the country, as well as Presidents past and present. Mayor Riley’s leadership qualities and his visionary capacity have been the catalyst for Charleston’s multi-faceted trajectory over the past four decades. In this intimate and personal talk from within the historic City Council chambers, Mayor Riley will share insights into how Charleston has come to be one of the most talked about cities in America, and where the road leads from here.


Meet the Makers: Pop Up Retail Experience

Erin Connelly, owner of The Commons (a curated shop of American-made goods), brings together some of her favorite local designers and artisans into a pop-up environment within the some-say-haunted halls of the Old Charleston Jail, now home to the American College of the Building Arts. Shopping makes you hungry? To the rescue comes Brooks Reitz, owner of Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop, with a delicious lunch of traditional Southern fare – namely, his famous fried chicken!


Speaker Session: Joseph McGill, historian and creator of the Slave Dwelling Project

Step inside the Aiken Rhett House and step back in time; way back, in fact, to the early 19th century and experience a plantation home that has been magnificently preserved to its original condition. During a cocktail and canapé reception, we’ll hear a fascinating talk from Mr. Joe McGill and learn more about the history of the house and its slave quarters, while the soulful, moody voice of vocalist Ann Caldwell will transport us all to a world we can only ever imagine…


Evening House Party

We’ll continue to nosh on delectable Southern bites as we listen to the sounds of some favorite musicians and relax among friends in a party atmosphere at one of the city’s most revered addresses. The homeowner, and our host for the evening, will share the history of this 18th century architecturally stunning home, which was at one time a tenement house that was later renovated into the neoclassical Adam style that it is today.



Breakout Sessions

Small group breakouts allow Experiences guests to have more intimate, behind the scenes encounters with fascinating and influential locals. Spend a couple of hours in the private studio of an artist, stroll through a neighborhood with a leading expert in history and architecture, or roll up your sleeves and learn how to distill craft spirits! These are just a few of the exclusive activities we’re putting together; a final list of breakout sessions will be revealed here two weeks prior to the event date. These are just a few of the exclusive activities we’re putting together; a final list of breakout sessions can be seen here.


Speaker Session: Jonathan Green, artist and historian

One of the South’s most acclaimed fine artists, Jonathan Green, is also passionate about the heritage of one of the Lowcountry’s most celebrated crops: rice. Over a delicious home cooked lunch that includes this storied ingredient, Jonathan will enlighten us with an overview of how Carolina Gold has shaped the region culturally, economically, and politically.


Oyster Roast with Chef Mike Lata

The Charleston food scene would not have risen to the heights its achieved today without the influence of renowned chef, Mike Lata of The Ordinary and FIG fame. On this very special excursion to a salty, roughhewn waterfront oyster shack on Charleston’s Folly Beach, Chef will prepare a traditional oyster roast while we stomp our feet to the dance beat of a bluegrass band and enjoy craft beer from Charleston’s very own Palmetto Brewery.


In Charleston the party doesn’t stop…

We’ll wrap up our two day extravaganza with an after party at Charleston Distilling, where the dancing and merriment will continue as we sip specialty-created craft cocktails and meet the passionate artisans behind the distillery.


Featured Locals

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    Jeff Allen

    A food writer, educator, and longtime resident of the Holy City, Jeff Allen has never met a softshell crab he didn't get along with. His interest in African American foodways means that he spends his days looking for the best red rice, the crispiest fried whiting, and the most succulent creek shrimp in town. If you can't find him in one of Charleston's local soul food shacks, then he's probably out on his farm turning hogs into ham.

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    Becca Barnet

    Becca Barnet is an artist who has chosen her own creative route separate from the gallery scene and working in a decidedly unusual medium: taxidermy. She brings an artist’s vision to the craft, creating installations for everything from stores and restaurants (including Chef Mike Lata's The Ordinary, in Charleston) to museums including the South Carolina Aquarium and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Becca grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina (where she turned the entire basement of her family’s home into a rainforest diorama). She received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and attended the Missouri Taxidermy Institute. In 2012, Becca started her own business, Sisal & Tow, allowing her to create her one-of-a-kind paintings and installations for a variety of clients.

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    Erin Connelly

    Erin Connelly is the co-founder of The-Commons, a shop based in Charleston that sells a curated selection of American housewares. She is passionate about searching out products that are rooted in the history of American craft, albeit with a contemporary point of view. Her store on Broad Street has been described by Fodor’s as one of “the most interesting new shops in Charleston,” but it is much more than a retail space. Erin’s mission is to create a community to support the best of American craftsmanship, stocking items including handcrafted leather trivets from Seattle, copper flasks from Markle, Indiana, and artisanal tonics created in Charleston. Before opening The-Commons, Erin spent twelve years designing clothes for brands including Nanette Lepore, Anne Klein, Ann Taylor, Levi Strauss & Co. and Eddie Bauer. A visit with Erin will provide an introduction to some of the most interesting craftsmen in America, as well as a new appreciation of the details that make artisanal products uniquely special.

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    Paul Garbarini

    Travelers who want to immerse themselves in the rich history of Charleston and those who want more than architectural tidbits when visiting the places where George Washington spoke, turn to Paul Garbarini of Uniquely Charleston Tours. Paul first fell in love with the historic furnishings of Charlestonians, helping them restore antiques to their original beauty as the owner of Heirloom Finishes. But Paul’s curiosity and love of history lie deep within his DNA, so he took dozens of courses on local history and became a licensed tour guide. Paul shares stories of all the people who built the Holy City—enslaved people and those who owned them—and the tales of early settlers from Britain, France, Barbados, Ireland, and Africa. (When not leading tours of the city, Paul was instrumental in building the Slave Memorial at Charleston’s Unitarian Church.) His understanding of the city is deep and wide—from the city’s Jewish community to the evolution of its theaters, there is no topic that Paul hasn’t studied. Our walking tour with Paul is sure to bring Charleston’s fascinating, colorful history to life.

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    Jonathan Green

    Author Pat Conroy wrote of Jonathan Green that, “His art is a love song to his past. You imagine him singing as he paints, an ode to joy and the bright astonishment of memory.” One of the most acclaimed Southern artists working today, Jonathan finds his inspiration in the life of the Gullah people of the Sea Islands. His colorful art imbues daily life with a spiritual and romantic vision and can be found in a number of museums around the world, including Germany’s Museum Würth, the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, and the IFCC Cultural Center of Portland, Oregon. Jonathan is also a cofounder of the Lowcountry Rice Culture Project which builds partnerships to explore, reveal, and reclaim the heritage of the Lowcountry rice industry. A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago and the recipient of an honorary degree from the University of South Carolina, Jonathan has also collaborated on ballet, music, opera, and theater productions.

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    Mariana Hay and Rhett Outten

    Over a century ago, William Croghan opened his store on Charleston’s King Street. Today, Mariana Hay and Rhett Outten, both born and raised in Charleston, are the third generation to greet customers at the city’s oldest family owned jewelry store, Croghan’s Jewel Box. The store, with its combination of estate finds and original designs, has been covered by Departures, Southern Living, Town & Country, and many other magazines.

    Mariana is a graduate of the College of Charleston and has served as a Trustee for the Historic Charleston Foundation and a board member of Low Country Local First. She is currently on the boards of the Parks Conservancy, the Charles Towne Neighborhood Association, and the Mayor’s Peninsula Task Force. Rhett is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and lived in Greenville, South Carolina for 22 years where she opened and operated a branch of Croghan’s Jewel Box. She returned home to Charleston in 2009 and is currently President of the Ashley Hall School Alumnae Board and on the board of directors of the Gibbes Museum of Art.

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    Mike Lata

    If you ask any foodie for the names of the chefs responsible for Charleston’s culinary renaissance, Mike Lata will likely be at the top of the list. In 2003, he and his partner Adam Nemirow opened FIG which has received raves from both critics and diners. Mike was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast award in 2007 and 2008 and he took home the prize in 2009. In 2012, Mike turned his focus to seafood with The Ordinary, a classic oyster bar and seafood hall in the Upper King District. The Ordinary appeared on a number of best restaurants of the year lists, including those in Bon Appétit, Esquire, and GQ. Mike is a uniquely qualified guide to Charleston’s food scene as well as the city generally—when he’s not behind the stove, he can be found exploring Charleston on one of his prized Ducati motorcycles.

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    Mark and Kerry Marhefka

    Even as many diners have embraced the concept of eating locally, the ethos has been slow to make it to the high seas. Fish and seafood are often transported hundreds of miles while the fisherman selling his daily catch to a chef is more a romantic idea than a reality. Mark and Kerry Marhefka are helping to change that through their company, Abundant Seafood. Mark, a second-generation fisherman, acts as his own distributor selling to Charleston’s top restaurants. Kerry, originally from Maine, is a fishery biologist who was working for the South Atlantic Fisher Management Council when she met Mark in 1998. In 2009, the couple took the concept behind Abundant Seafood one step further, creating the first Community Supported Fishery (CSF) in their area. Now 100% of Mark’s catch, along with that from other boats, is sold to local restaurants and about 200 families in South Carolina and North Carolina. They are fascinating entrepreneurs as well as committed stewards of an imperiled ocean.

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    Ann Marshall and Scott Blackwell

    Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall, the owners of the High Wire Distilling Co. produce a very distinctive line of small batch spirits, including gins, rums, whiskeys, and vodkas. Scott has been a “serial entrepreneur” since the age of 10—he has been a pie maker, restaurateur, and coffee roaster. Most recently, he was a commercial baker and the founder of the Immaculate Baking Company, which he sold to General Mills. Scott then cofounded High Wire with his wife, Ann, founder of Fresh Idea Farm, a natural products marketing consultancy offering product strategy and communication services to small, creative food start-ups. In addition to their professional achievements, Scott and Ann baked the World’s Biggest Cookie, as determined by Guinness World Records, which measured 102 feet wide!

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    Jayce McConnell

    A 2013 Eater Young Gun winner, Jayce McConnell is one of the South’s most recognizable and respected bartenders. Originally from Savannah, GA, McConnell moved to Oxford, MS in 2009 to attend college at Ole Miss. Working his way up the restaurant ranks, he started developing creative craft cocktails and over a three year period developed a program that featured over 20 varieties of bitters, shrubs, tinctures and flavored liquors. He was credited for changing the cocktail scene in Oxford, a small college town, and had students come in for the drinks he was serving instead of the beer and shots so often ordered.

    Now, as the Head Bartender at Edmund’s Oast, Jayce is constantly researching and experimenting with products and flavors, he makes most cocktails from scratch using locally sourced ingredients.

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    Joseph McGill

    Joseph McGill has a mission, “to tell part of the story that has been sugar-coated, or not told at all.” As the founder of the Slave Dwelling project he is helping to preserve and restore slave dwellings on plantations, bringing attention to these often neglected structures that are vitally important to our history and the American built environment. Joe is also a history consultant to the Magnolia Plantation in Charleston. Prior to his current positions, he also served as the Executive Director of the African American Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and was the Director of History and Culture at Penn Center, on St. Helena Island. (The Penn School was the first school built for the education of freed slaves.) Joe is also the founder of the Company I 54th Massachusetts Reenactment Regiment in Charleston—one of the first official African-American units in the Union Army and portrayed in the movie Glory.

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    Carrie Morey

    The perfect Southern biscuit, as both residents and visitors to Charleston know, is a culinary work of art and Carrie Morey has made sharing tender, buttery, made-by-hand biscuits her life mission. Carrie founded Callie’s Charleston Biscuits in 2005—the company is named for her mother, a caterer and the source of the original recipe. Since then, Carrie’s biscuits have been praised by Saveur, Food & Wine, Southern Living, The New York Times, and many others. Carrie is also the author of Callie’s Biscuits and Southern Traditions: Heirloom Recipes from Our Family Kitchen and acts as a mentor to small artisanal food businesses while providing them with a baking space. Meet Carrie and devour her amazing fare at our kick-off event: a Biscuit and Bloody Mary breakfast!

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    John Polk

    John Polk is most often seen showing visitors the sights of Charleston while holding the reins of a horse drawn carriage—he’s led tours of the city for over ten years. On AFAR Experiences, however, he will bring historic Charleston, and its ghosts, to life on a biking tour of downtown. An engaging orator, John combines an encyclopedic knowledge of the city with true Southern charm. John is a native South Carolinian and a graduate of North Greenville University, where he studied American History.

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    Brooks Reitz

    Brooks Reitz is a leading figure in Charleston’s food and drink scene. His interest in hospitality dates from childhood, as the son of a restaurant and bar owner growing up in a family that loved to entertain. After working at the 21C Hotel in Louisville, Brooks moved to Charleston where he has been the general manager of two of the city’s most popular and acclaimed restaurants, FIG and the Ordinary. He also owns two restaurants of his own—Leon’s, a fried chicken and oyster shop, and St. Alban, an all-day coffee shop, café, and wine bar. Brooks is founder of the Jack Rudy Cocktail Company, which produces small-batch non-alcoholic cocktail mixers and has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Monocle, and Bon Appétit.

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    Mayor Joe Riley

    Among the hosts welcoming AFAR Experiences to Charleston is the city’s mayor himself, Joseph P. Riley, Jr. First elected in 1975, Mayor Riley is now serving an unprecedented tenth term. His list of accomplishments is impressive. He’s overseen a remarkable revitalization of the historic downtown business district and led a city government with a distinguished record of innovation in public safety, housing, arts and culture, and the creation of parks and other public spaces. He helped create and grow the Spoleto Festival U.S.A. and built the beautiful Waterfront Park. Mayor Riley has been at the forefront of sustainability, establishing the Charleston Green Committee and providing leadership for other programs while fostering increased economic revitalization and development, all while maintaining his commitment to racial harmony. A national leader in the area of urban design and livability issues, he has put Charleston in the forefront as an example of high quality urban design. Mayor Riley has led Charleston to its current status as one of the most livable, progressive, and, not least, visited cities in the United States.

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    David S. Shields

    Professor David S. Shields is an internationally recognized scholar in food studies, photographic history, and early American culture. He has written a dozen books—his latest is Southern Provision: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine (University of Chicago Press), a history of the roles of farmers, markets, and chefs in the formation of Lowcountry and Southern cuisine. He is also recognized as the world’s foremost expert on the history of American performing arts photography. He was born in Washington, DC, raised in Japan, and educated at the College of William & Mary, Trinity College University in Dublin, and the University of Chicago. Prior to becoming the Carolina Distinguished Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina, he taught at Vassar College and the Citadel.


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    Charleston Area Conventions & Visitors Bureau

    “Welcome!” It is amazing how one simple word can so fully describe an area, an industry and a state of mind. The Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has set about with the task of defining what “Welcome” means to our community and how it is conveyed to our visitors. The Charleston area has embraced a collaborative spirit that is unique in today’s business climate. And the results have been spectacular, as working together allows our community to create a new and lasting experience for visitors and locals alike. It is this shared sense of purpose that has garnered the attention of travelers throughout the world!