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15 Minutes with Ben & Kate Towill

March 2018
15 Minutes with Ben & Kate Towill

Meet the restaurateur-designer duo behind Basic Kitchen and learn how they live by the café’s motto, “cleaner fuel, longer adventures”

CM: How long have you been in town?
KT:
This is our fourth year here. Before that, we were in New York for 10 years. I moved there when I was 18 to study at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and ended up staying.
BT: And I moved there when I was 22 or 23.

CM: Anything you miss or don’t miss about the city?
BT:
New York is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, but that environment takes a toll. It’s not until I speak with my friends still living there that I realize how different our quality of life is now.
KT: I miss our friends, but not the nonstop of everything. There, it’s okay to e-mail someone at eight p.m. and expect a response. I love how our workdays really end at five—and sometimes four!

CM: What inspired Basic Kitchen?
BT:
We came up with the idea when we took a cycling trip across the country in 2014. We started in Jamestown, Virginia, and finished 4,500 miles later in Astoria, Oregon. During the trip, we hashed out a plan for Basic Projects, our project-design company, and Basic Kitchen sprung from that.
KT: I remember we were in Lander, Wyoming, when we thought it up. We wanted to make a restaurant that we’d like to eat at three or four times a week, with plenty of fresh vegetables and proteins.

CM: And this wasn’t your first rodeo opening a restaurant, right?
BT:
Right. Before this, I opened a few New York restaurants, like Fat Radish, Leadbelly, and The East Pole. And last year, Kate and I renovated a 300-year-old pub in the U.K. called the Ferryboat Inn, which is owned by my brother and his wife.

CM: What was it like designing Basic?
KT:
When we were planning, we kept thinking about how bright and clean and simple we wanted the food, but sometimes with that menu concept comes very stark spaces. I wanted it to be bright, but also welcoming. So I brought in texture with vintage fabrics and leather.
BT: Kate’s background is in set design, and she’s so good at layering artwork and pieces of furniture. We worked with a lot of local artists, like Sully Sullivan, who did all of the photography.

CM: Did you ever worry that folks wouldn’t go for a vegetable-heavy menu?
BT:
There were some doubts, but we believed that there was a need for this in Charleston, and we knew we had a great group of people who were interested. We tried not to be single-minded, making a strictly plant-based or meat-less menu—I think that would isolate people.
KT: We’re not vegetarians ourselves, but we wanted to create a place that catered to all types of eaters, vegetarians included. We sell as many veggie bowls here as we do turkey burgers.

CM: What’s the thought behind your motto, “cleaner fuel, longer adventures”?
BT:
Our hope is that customers will pick their own adventures, and then after eating healthfully, it will be much easier to accomplish those things. I believe whole-heartedly that food is at the center of so much in our lives: it shapes our actions, the way we feel.

CM: What’s your favorite adventure?
KT:
Every two years, Ben and I plan a big trip, which we call our passion project. We did a cross-country ride in 2014, and then in 2016, we went with a group from Charleston to explore Antarctica, which was incredible. We’re brainstorming our next one! 

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Photographs by (Ben & Kate Towill) by Brett Tighe & (sailing) courtesy of Kate Towill, & courtesy of (Chez Nous) the restaurant