Saddened to hear this week of the passing of my friend Joseph Hewett.
I met Joe as part of the Lake Gordon Mafia, when I was working as a tour guide. We’d host weekly throwdowns – Joe and I would cook, Josh Ivey would grab bread from Dinardo’s, a bottle of Mendoza and pull out some obscure Pedro Almodovar movie. Libations would flow and madness would ensue. This is the etymology of gumpchezgump. They all said one day I would have a restaurant and it would be so good it would not only be chezgump, but gumpchezgump.
I’d picked up a Paella pan from the old FRED store on King St and was stoked to break it in. We made a huge batch of sangria, I burned the paella, Joe just kept ranting “PAY-EYH-UNH!!!” at the top of his lungs. Out of control. I don’t remember exactly how, but that’s the first time we dubbed him Grendel. On very special occasions, the Grendel would make an appearance.
Joe and I were sitting on the steps of the CofC library, smoking Dunhill’s. That’s the type of pretentious peckers we were back then – we smoked Dunhill’s. I was listening to Bill Laswell remixes of Bob Marley. I said “Hey Joe, I hear Louis Osteen is opening a new restaurant. Let’s go and get jobs.”
So I went down and knocked on the door. That’s when I met James Clark, Deanie Cooper, Louis and Marlene Osteen. Joe was to follow a few weeks later. As I remember, Joe was working through a breakup, as “Old Girl” had run off with someone from Jump Little Children, or Uncle Mingo. Joe threw himself into things, working Garde Manger with Kristen Essig. He was really good, and a lot faster than me. For some strange reason, every day Louis walked into the kitchen right about the same time Joe would be prepping the trio of club eggs. So Joe was dubbed “Egg” and when Louis said “What’s up, Egg?” he sounded an awful lot like Foghorn Leghorn. So the Egg stuck. We were roomates for a short while then, skating home from Louis’s on Sector 9’s; walking up the street to Hoppin’ John’s on pay days. We laughed our asses off one night when Deanie got a stripper to come in after service for James’ birthday. Right there on the line, she sat him down, mixed him a martini and made that booty clap. Of course in those days, f&b was like the wild west.
Joe and I would part ways a year later, as I moved away to Michigan and a casino job in operations management. I returned to Charleston on a couple of occasions and always found time to hang with Joe. He was making the rounds, working for Bob Carter at P-Grill, Michael Kramer at McCrady’s and eventually at Hominy Grill as a sous chef for Robert Stehling at Hominy Grill. I was increasingly focused on process in my career path, Joe was focused on just making memorable experiences.
Somehow, somewhere, Joe met Karen. It seems like Karen was doing pastries for Ken Vedrinski when he was still up at Woodlands. It was a thing, and it was on. Joe called me to stand up at their wedding, which they held at the Unitarian Church on King St. It was beautiful and stunning and still a favorite place to walk around when I’m on the peninsula.
We checked in with each other over the years, complaining to each other about breakups, health issues, work- the usual suspects. “You know Gumper, it’s like this,” he’d always start. Joe and Karen opened up the Indigo Duck in Indianapolis. I’d hoped, having returned to Charleston, that Joe would at some point be down here to visit family and that we would be able to reconnect for an evening or two, kill some sangria and possibly awaken the Grendel.
So here’s to you, Egg. I’m sorry we didn’t get that pitcher of sangria. You were a good friend and a great cook. We were roomates for a short while – thanks for putting up with me. This sucks and I miss you, but so it goes.Get some rest- you’ve sure earned it.
I’ll be making paella tonight for my family. Don’t be surprised if a little libation gets spilled in the marsh…