It all began in a kitchen of a restaurant that was once on Meeting Street, where thirteen-year old was asked to step in and wash dishes. The fair-headed youth, now a grown man, has emerged among a throng of businesses and business owners, to stake his claim among the eateries in the greater Charleston community.
Antwan Smalls, a graduate of Burke High and Charleston Southern, entered the restaurant industry by happenstance, but it was clearly destiny that placed him in Alice Warren’s kitchen. Alice Warren began her journey on the Charleston restaurant scene in January of 1967 at the Ladson House Restaurant at 182 President Street as a short order cook. She remained there until 1986.
Warren would run the operation beginning in 1982 when John Ladson’s health began to decline. With the closing of the Ladson House, Warren then relocated to the corner of King and Cleveland Street with the assistance of Price Whittaker, a good friend and loyal patron from her days at the Ladson House. Together they opened Alice’s Fine Food and Cooking which was in operation from 1985 until 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston.
After being out operation for nearly a year, Warren then returned to a location on Meeting Street Road in 1990 and by 1992 had another location on-line at 616 Meeting Street. With the success of the lower Meeting Street location, it led Warren to close the Meeting Street Road location and concentrate on 616. Within a short period, the crowds out grew the location and forced Warren to move once again. This time she would land on King Street.
After consulting with friend Francis Seabrook, she was encouraged to speak with Clyde Robinson, the owner of several locations on King. Warren then opened at 478 King Street in October of 1994. After a decade of operation, the establishment felt to the pressure of the competitive market that now made its impact on upper King Street and closed its doors in 2004.
She would return several years later to Ike’s on Meeting Street and worked once again with Lorraine Smalls. It was here that the discussion began with Smalls and Warren to contact Antwan to see if his interests in starting a restaurant of his own was still on his agenda. “I asked Lorraine, if Antwan was still interested in opening a restaurant and she said yes, he was just waiting on you.” stated Warren. Because of their close relationship, Antwan affectionately refers to Warren as “other mother”.
When the talk of a location and finances arose, it was quickly ended. Smalls who was still working out of the area, depended on his mother and Warren to find a location. “I told him now other mother don’t have any funds and he told me, I’ve [Smalls] been blessed, other mother don’t need any funds,” said Warren.
It was the friendship that forged over many nights over hot stoves and pots that Lorraine Smalls and Alice Warren would share cooking over the years at several of these various locations. Lorraine Smalls, a retired veteran of the United States Army, would start her post service employment with Warren.
“She taught me all I know”, said Lorraine Smalls of Warren. It was through their relationship as employer and co-worker that Lorraine would have her teenage son at the Meeting Street location when Antwan would be asked to assist in dishwashing that would formulate a pact that would last to this day. It was a lasting friendship that would make family of friends and would leave an impression on the younger Smalls as he entered and graduated from Burke High School and later from Charleston Southern University.
Smalls would remain under the guidance and tutelage of Warren. Like his mother, he would join the Army, where he has served for the past eight years. Smalls would also join them in his quest to become a restaurateur in Charleston. The path was not easy. He ran into the denials for financing because of his lack of history in the business. Smalls works as contractor and through saving, he was able to secure his start-up capital.
When mother and other mother called with the possibility of opening up a new spot, Antwan was prepared. His business plan was ready, as he had worked on it over the years after his first denial for a bank loan. He would bring another anchor and new family member into the mix. His wife Kierre is now part of the team and effort.
Kierre Smalls has been another supportive element and now fixture at My 3 Sons, coined after Antwan and brothers Sedale and Courtney. “It’s challenging and rewarding at the same time,” stated Kierre as she described being a wife and business partner. “I had to put boundaries on it, because I think he was bringing work home a little too much, so I had to scale back my hours because he puts so many hours into the restaurant…so if he’s not at his nine to five, he’s here and I was the same way, so I had to step back a little,” stated Kierre.
Not losing the focus on family has played a part in the success of My 3 Sons. Although they don’t have any children as of yet, It hasn’t stopped the Smalls family from thinking of the future in terms of the next generation. “The foundation has been laid and that’s why I’m working so hard…for that next generation…my nieces and nephews are here and rather than running around, I give them some tasks to do…one niece Zaria will stand to the door and greet customers…another niece, Sedajah, will stand right next to her granny and cook” stated Antwan. He went on to say “…they are seeing the hard work and labor we are putting in so that they can carry on the torch that we are putting down right now for them.”
Warren has always thought highly of her protégé. “When he was sixteen, I saw a business figure in him…and asked him to take a ride with me,” stated Warren as she took the younger Smalls to view her location at 470 King Street nearly two decades ago. She saw something in him, and he saw something in her. “I asked for his input and he said other mother let’s do it!” as Warren showed Smalls a building owned by Clyde Robinson. “We are gonna be on top!” said Smalls.
Lessons learned from Antwan Smalls:
• Understanding what your are supposed to pay monthly in terms of taxes
• Have a pleasant staff. If you’re not pleasant to customers with common courtesy, we don’t get paid.
My Three Sons of Charleston is located at 1910 E. Montague Avenue, North Charleston, SC 29405
Tuesday – Thursday
Menu: BBQ Ribs, Fried & Baked Chicken, Turkey Wings, Fried Fish, Ox Tails and various vegetables and rice.