August 2011

Get Mellow - Mellow Mushroom Serves Up Good Food, Good Times in Two Locations

Author: David Tobias | Photographer: Kali Lynn Photography

Kim Boyce is so happy to be in a place that has “drippy mushrooms” hanging from the ceiling, a red and white PVC-pipe lighthouse on the wall, and an entryway chandelier made of skimboards that gets all psychedelic-groovy at night. After years in the high-stress corporate world, you could say she’s feeling downright mellow.

She and her husband John arrived at the restaurant ownership stage of their lives by way of the more staid, less fanciful world of technology and telecommunications, which might seem somewhat at odds with “happiness as expressed in pizza.”

But nine years ago, they both traded their 40-hour-week jobs for 60-hours plus (plus pizza and beer) and opened Mellow Mushroom in the Park Plaza shopping center on the south end of Hilton Head Island.

Thanks to a major Harris Teeter expansion plan, they recently relocated, rebuilt and re-opened that original Mellow Mushroom in the front corner of Park Plaza, kicking off a fresh beginning for their well-established success and making room for the grocery chain’s newest 54,000-square foot mega-store. When the new Harris Teeter is complete and the old Harris Teeter torn down, the logic of Mellow Mushroom’s move will be even more obvious.

What the Boyces are especially excited about, however, is that this past Memorial Day weekend, they made Bluffton a bit more “Mellow,” opening a restaurant just around the corner from Jim and Nick’s, at the intersection of Highway 278 and Simmonsville Road.

Leaving the corporate world to do pizza makes perfect sense once you know that Kim’s background is in marketing and John’s is in sales—both quite transferable skills—and the perfect match for an ownership duo who want to make smart business decisions and have a little fun while they’re at it. Both are now delighted to be selling pizza, beer, and T-shirts that say “Holy Shitake.”

Neither Kim nor John had specific restaurant experience before taking on Mellow Mushroom as a new career, just a commitment to make it work.

“You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no sitting on the line,” Kim said. “You learn it quickly and it’s like any other business. It’s about customer service; it’s a good product with good placement; it has a good reputation and a good support
network.”

Kim’s strategic marketing background has come in handy. It was a careful analysis of Bluffton’s demographics—thousands of families means plenty of kids, means plenty of pizza sales—that led to opening the restaurant there. Even the location was strategic.

According to Kim, the well-known Jim and Nick’s was not only a navigational landmark but also complementary draw for those who might eat ribs one night and come back for pizza, sandwiches and beer another. Judging by the packed restaurant and hoppin’ bar on a typical Tuesday night, the strategy is working.

For both Mellow Mushroom restaurants, atmosphere is a big part of the appeal. The focus is on the family crowd for food, and the bar draw is greatly enhanced by 40 beers on tap at the Hilton Head Island location (105 varieties overall) and 24 beers on tap in Bluffton, with plenty of room for expansion to another 12.
Part of John’s job has been to work with the corporate creative team at Mellow

Mushroom in Atlanta and with a dedicated design firm called Dreamscapes, charged with creating consistent, yet unique, Mellow Mushroom ambiance concepts to place elements within both stores that reflect what Hilton Head Island and Bluffton are all about.

Those designs take the form of re-purposing, re-tooling and recycling items like the PVC pipe lighthouse, getting all crazy with skimboards and bringing in wall wood from Amish barns in Ohio. Even old bicycle parts hung on a wall in the shape of a pizza add character. Kim calls the Hilton Head Island location “a little bit Las Vegas” and refers to the Bluffton location as “the lake house.”

“Our inspiration in Bluffton was Calhoun Street,” Kim said. “In one of the doorways we mirrored the Church of the Cross. I’ve always collected folk art, so there’s a lot of folk art from local artisans, some of it my own, but a lot of it from Eggcentricities and some we commissioned just for that restaurant.”

It takes a while to take in all the whimsy. If you look hard enough, the thatched roof tiki tables on the outdoor decks look like mushroom caps, and a Mellow Mushroom pizza tree occupies a corner of the restaurant in Bluffton. Even the “necessaries” are playful, referred to as “Flushrooms”—rhymes with mushrooms, get it? But for the best, you have to look up, where enormous Mason jars with wings hang from the ceiling. At night they light up, looking quite like giant fireflies in the sky.

So why exactly did two successful technology and telemarketing professionals pull up corporate stakes and head to Hilton Head Island? Well, Hilton Head Island had been part of John’s upbringing (his parents had homes here) and frequent visits helped them to decide that this was where they wanted to live permanently and raise their two children, Caroline, 12 and Jack, 7. Being part of a smaller community also had its appeal, and their two children have thoroughly enjoyed growing up semi-famous, as the son and daughter of pizza mavens.

When Mellow Mushroom is the family business, kids that age become “rock stars,” according to Kim. “Caroline and her friends like to come down here and hang out. She’s pushing us to allow her to work here, and all her friends want that, too. It’s kind of like a scene from Tom Sawyer,” she said. “I think they’d paint a fence if we had one. Caroline’s going to be our best recruiter. And this is where Jack likes to come to play games with his friends.”

Kim says that while happy customers are clearly the key to business success, paying special attention to employees has been the most gratifying part of owning two restaurants.

“We really, over the years, have become close to our employees. We take care of them and they take care of us,” Kim said. “After nine years, we still have employees who have been here since day one. We work hard and play hard, we like to go out to eat, travel, go to the beach, and we have fun.

“We really love what we do, and our heart is in it. It’s the only way you can be successful.”

That and giant Mason jar fireflies.

Mellow Mushroom Hilton Head – 843-686-2474
Mellow Mushroom Bluffton – 843-706-0800

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