The Grey Blog

The Coastal Emperor Blog is Worth a Read

I recently stumbled across a Blog called The Coastal Emperor as the blog’s founder wrote a very nice piece about my friend Kyle Jacovino and his departure from the kitchen of the 1540 Room at the Desoto Hotel back in August.

The article on Kyle and 1540 was as honest as a subjective piece of writing can be and truly refreshing for me as a new discovery. The writer clearly loves every single thing Kyle does and has done and believes that Kyle has been screwed over by Savannah and a lack of understanding by Savannahians as to Kyle’s talents as a chef. The writer is also no fan of The Grey. He intimates that we are hollow and a product of hype because we have received numerous accolades for the work we are doing. The writer ate at The Grey about a year ago so it is not only his right to form and offer whatever opinion he wants, but frankly, informed critique and criticism are really needed in Savannah so, in spite of the fact that we are not his cup of tea, I was quite happy to read an honest point-of-view even if it was at our expense.

That said, it will not come as a shock that I disagree with the writer on multiple fronts. I do think that Kyle is a phenomenal cook – truly, a great talent that Savannah is lucky to have and I hope he chooses to set up shop here in whatever his next venture may be. But to blame his departure from 1540 solely on nebulous “forces” at work within Savannah is dubious at best and conveniently dismissive at worst. I always thought that Kyle’s tenure at that hotel was going to be short-lived. To have a chef-driven restaurant in a space like that requires the full support of the hotel management and a long runway to build a following. Kyle, not at all surprisingly, never received either of those things from the hotel operators as their business strategy is clearly a short-term one, likely built around revenue and profit.

As a friend of Kyle’s (who I asked to read this piece before I posted it so that he could confirm that what I am saying in it is accurate), I can also tell you that he learned a lot from his experience at 1540. He learned about menu development. He got closer to finding his own voice as a young, dynamic and evolving chef. He made some really good food and also some mistakes along the way. Of course, he bears a portion of the responsibility for his successes and his failures, as we all do, which the writer of the piece conveniently ignores.

As it relates to The Grey, I think his assessment of us is off base in several ways.

Are we a “showy disappointment,” as he states? Well, obviously to him we are but that implies that we are mailing it in. I invite the writer to come and sit in our restaurant between the hours of seven in the morning and when we open for service and witness the heart and soul that every member of our team puts forth from Mashama and me all the way through to Daisy, Flounder and Otter. OK, fine, maybe the dogs don’t work so hard but the rest of us do and the sole reason for that is to provide a complete and satisfying experience for our guests.

Flounder, Otter and Daisy hard at work at The Grey

Another of his claims is that Mashama is just another ho hum chef doing ho hum “farm-to-table Southern” food. Gotta call bullshit on that one. Red pea pancakes with whipped lardo? Pasta with preserved tomatoes, house-cured bottarga and saffron? Catfish tagine? Foie & grits? Braised rabbit with spaetzle? Local peppers with tuna sauce?

Defense rests.

Now whether you like Mashama’s food or not is another story, and clearly the writer does not which is totally fair and his prerogative. But please, don’t attack our commitment to doing what we do. Frankly, don’t attack anyone in this fragile food landscape on their effort if they are trying hard. I completely support your right to say you don’t like a restaurant’s food or service, including ours, but at least applaud the effort when a genuine effort is being put forth.

Finally, do we use local ingredients?

Guilty as charged.

His critique on the “farm-to-table” nature of what we do (a phrase we have never and would never use internally or in our external messaging), is misguided. It is true that he’s never going to see a US Foods or Sysco truck in the lane behind The Grey, however, he will see Ernest Macintosh in his pickup truck delivering oysters to us from Harris Neck, Georgia. I think the writer, if he is serious about what he claims is his mission, should ask Ernest and his son, who now has a business to grow for the next generation of Macintosh’s, if we have been a showy disappointment in our commitment to them and their locally raised oysters.

So, let me say this to Mr. Milton, the writer – I love the fact that you love Kyle and his food. Me too. And, I completely respect the fact that you do not like The Grey. But don’t love on something because you think it makes you seem enlightened and don’t hate on something else because you think it makes you seem more an individual. Kyle’s food is not mystical; it’s delicious. And Mashama’s food is not hype; it’s also delicious.

That is as honest an opinion as I can subjectively offer.

With all that said, please, please, please… keep doing what you’re doing Mr. Milton. It is only through honest and informed opinion that we are all, together, going to continue to elevate the food game in Savannah.

Bravo sir. – Johno

Big Things Happening at The Grey

It’s hard to believe that in December The Grey will have its fourth anniversary. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that Mashama and I are standing tall, we have tons of energy and we are ready to take on a bit more to continue to contribute to Savannah’s evolving culture of elevating food, wine and hospitality.

How are we going to do this?

Well, by throwing the doors open to our second venture.

It’s called The Grey Market and here are the details:

Opening Date:  October 2018 (final date TBA shortly)

Address:  109 Jefferson Street, Savannah (just South of Broughton Street)


Monday through Friday 7AM to 7PM

Saturday 8AM to 7PM

Sunday 8AM to 5PM

Hollywood-like Descriptor:   Port City Southern lunch counter meets urban grocery

What can I get there:  All you need to nourish your soul and survive and thrive in Savannah

The Grey Market will open in October at 109 Jefferson Street

And for every action, as we all know, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Really, this is just a dramatic way of saying that opening The Grey Market means we are changing some things at The Grey in terms of service and hours in our Diner Bar. Our new Diner Bar hours effective September 18, 2018 through October 18, 2018 are as follows:

Diner Bar:  Tuesday, Wed, Thurs and Sunday – 4PM to 10PM

.           Friday and Saturday – 4PM to 11PM

But wait, there’s more. Because on October 19, 2018, we are going to introduce a brand-new, all-day menu in the Diner Bar on the weekends. Beginning on October 19, 2018 the Diner Bar’s hours will change to the following:

Diner Bar – Tuesday, Wed, Thurs 4PM to 10PM

.            Friday, Saturday and Sunday 12PM to 11PM (All-day menu)

Dinner service in the main dining room will remain the same as always throughout:

Main Dining Room – Tuesday, Wed, Thurs and Sunday 5:30PM to 10PM

.                   Friday and Saturday 5:30PM to 11PM

(I know, I know. This results in a one-month period at The Grey during which we will not be serving food during daytime hours and we apologize if this inconveniences anyone but we need that brief sabbatical to get The Grey Market up and running and to create the all-day menu for the Diner Bar. This new menu will be a small plates expression of what Mashama is currently offering in our Main Dining Room).

You probably have questions if you have made it this far; right?

Like what exactly is a “Port City Southern lunch counter meets urban market?” Or, “why can’t the team at The Grey just leave everything alone?” And maybe even something along the lines of “have you gone batshit crazy, Johno?”

All very fair questions. I will take the last one first – I am no crazier today than I was six years ago when I started building The Grey or four years ago when Mashama and I opened it.

As to why Mashama and I cannot leave well enough alone, it’s because challenging ourselves and our team is what makes us tick. We are serious about contributing to Savannah by not only helping to nourish the people who live, work and visit here but also by growing our footprint and providing respectful and high-quality jobs to the City’s workforce. Continuing our program of making healthcare available to our full-time employees, providing access to a 401-K plan and, as often as possible, promoting from within our ranks are part of our promise to our team and will continue to be some of our most core values. This allows us to disseminate the culture we have created at The Grey into this next venture and it provides a visible career path to those team members seeking a long-term role within our growing family of enterprises.

And finally, what is The Grey Market? The best way to learn the answer to this question is to stop by and have a peek when we open in October. You can grab a seat at the lunch counter or snag something delicious to take-away with you. Our goal is to tear a playful page from Mashama’s recipe book and create a space that becomes a regular stop for breakfast, lunch, early dinner, snacks, takeaway, sundries, mementos or to grab a quick drink in a unique and welcoming space.

Oh – and if that’s not enough, we will have Rotisserie Chickens each day after 4pm.

Double oh – we have an absolute rock star of a full-time baker who moved here from New York City via Los Angeles strictly to make you bread, bagels and all sorts of doughy deliciousness. You know what that means? Our sandwiches are going to be the bomb because, in the end, a sandwich is all about the bread and Matt’s bread is out of this world. Really!

Triple oh – we will have a catering menu available for all of your office, entertaining and party needs, and we will be happy to take orders for picnic, weekend or beach packs that will provide all that you require to make your relaxation time stress-free and scrumptious. Suffice it to say that we will do our very best to fulfill all of your needs for delectableness.

So that’s what we got for you Savannah – The Grey, The Grey Market and our continued commitment to serving all who live, work and visit here to the very best of our ability.

See you around and, together, let’s keep trying to blow the roof off of this town.

– Johno

Let’s Do This Community Thing Together

During the first weekend of May, Mashama Bailey, my business partner in The Grey and our Executive Chef, and I went to Chicago to attend the James Beard Foundation Awards (“JBFA”). Mashama was a finalist in the category of Best Chef – Southeast Region. For those of you who are not familiar with these awards, think of them as the Academy Awards for the restaurant business. In accordance with the JBFA rules, it was the first year in which Mashama was eligible so for her to receive a nomination so soon was quite an honor. And, given that a Savannah chef had not received a nomination in nearly twenty-five years, it was an equally good thing for the profile of our City and its expanding food scene.

Chef Mashama Bailey with Biz Partner Johno Morisano at 2018 JBFA’s

So, with my wife Carol and Mashama’s parents, Dave and Catherine, we all headed to the Windy City to celebrate Mashama. After all, she was the very first female, African-American chef to ever be nominated in a “Best Chef” category. Let me repeat that – she was the very first female, African-American chef ever to be nominated and it stands to reason that a barrier forever broken is something to be celebrated.

And celebrate we did.

We ate, drank and partied (a little bit like rock stars). To be amongst our peers who were in attendance, all of whom strive to function at the highest levels possible, was beyond memorable. These folks bestowed upon us, and us upon them, unconditional support. We spent time with young chefs and industry professionals as well as some of the giants of American and Southern cooking. The words of wisdom, caring and encouragement that we received from everyone there, for what we are doing in Savannah, fed our minds and our souls.

But it was not just the attendees in Chicago who were supportive of us. So many friends, family members, chefs and restaurateurs, from Savannah and beyond, were also quick to show us some love. Our phones blew up for weeks. Cotton & Rye, Collins Quarter, 1540 Room, The Andaz, The Atlantic, Pinkies, Alley Cat, Tybee Social, Circa 1875, Certified Burgers and Southern Soul BBQ in Saint Simons Island, Miller Union in Atlanta, Compere Lapin in NoLa, Houseman and Prune in New York City and the list goes on and on… and on. That support, especially from our friends in the local restaurant community, means the absolute world to us. Suffice it to say, ‘we’ve got your backs.’

We have always sought to do more at The Grey than serve our guests good food. From the day we opened, we wanted to be a part of something – the Savannah community, the Southern community and the burgeoning restaurant renaissance that was beginning to take shape locally. As an early entrant into the chef-driven genre of local restaurants, we strived to be an example for others to follow. Our first allegiance has always been to each other at The Grey, a team second to none. From there we commit ourselves each day to excellence, hard work, integrity and, most importantly, to our community. And now, after three and a half years we look around and we realize that we are indeed part of something much larger than ourselves; something special. We are honored to be in the company of such fine restaurants, people and friends.

Back to the JBFA’s…

The category in which Mashama was nominated was won by a gentleman named Rodney Scott who is the chef and proprietor of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston. Some of you may know Rodney’s artistry or remember him (and his BBQ) from the evening he cooked at The Grey this past fall at our annual Edna Lewis Foundation dinner. I can say with certainty that there was no person more deserving in the Southeast Region, including our very own Mashama Bailey, of winning the James Beard this year than Rodney Scott. The selection committee absolutely made the correct choice and the South, Southern food and humanity are all a little better off today because of their decision.

But all good things must come to an end and upon our return to Savannah, I was pointed in the direction of a very brief article by one of our local food writers – Jesse Blanco. His post-JBFA headline read – “The Grey’s Mashama Bailey Comes Up Short in Chicago.”

He went on to say that, of course, Mashama would be the first to tell you that it was an honor just to be nominated but we all know, wink-wink, that winning is better.

I mean, I guess that is a true statement.

But I think it completely misses the point of what is taking place in Southern food right now and what Mashama’s nomination actually signified.

Mashama did not lose.

Rodney Scott, a third-generation barbecue guy who has been sweating his ass off in barbecue pits his entire life, won and that was an absolute game-changer on a number of levels.

Chefs of color and women killed it at the JBFA’s this year. Killed it! Southern food tore it up.

But in a two-dimensional, zero sum game world, winning is better.

We live, however, in a dynamic, complicated and nuanced world.

Consider that Mashama, a black woman cooking in the South, now has a seat at the table.

Consider that Mashama’s nomination cracked the glass and barbed wired ceiling.

Those are wins.

We all should celebrate the fact that, for a brief moment in time, inclusion outpaced exclusion in this fucked up world in which we are reduced to using hashtags in order to keep women safe in the workplace and we argue over which lives matter most.

Instead of people using their keyboards to, not so discretely, diminish an accomplishment by distilling it down to ‘coming up short,’ why would members of our own, very young, and fragile community not be coopting Mashama’s accomplishment as our collective accomplishment toward progress?

A constant refrain we hear from chefs and restaurateurs around town, and I often read it in articles by the small cadre of food writers who cover Savannah, refers to the “elevated food scene.” I agree, things are elevating. In the last three and half years there has been a steady stream of restaurants owned and run by people who are trying really hard; working their tails off, even. Shouldn’t the people who are covering it and, in theory supporting it, be keeping pace? Elevating their game? Mr. Blanco has not visited our restaurant in any real way since we opened. Yet in those three plus years much has changed. Mashama’s menu has evolved, we have matured, our internal culture hase become ingrained. The national food media now considers us an important destination in Southern and American food. Where is the curiosity about all of this growth from the people writing about it? All of this growth and not a single visit from a local writer who then, in a quippy line, dismisses Mashama’s forty months of hard work without even bothering to elaborate on any of the accomplishments or the things that got her a seat at the table in the first place. This just seems, well, wrong to me.

Mashama did not come up short. Mashama’s passion and talent contributes to the advancement of Savannah, the South and Southern food more than some people grasp or, maybe, would care to admit. Think about it. Prior to Mashama’s entrance onto the local culinary scene, Savannah’s food was identified nationally only with Paula Deen.

Indeed, much has changed in three and a half years.

So, with that said, I respectfully submit three alternative headlines, that do not miss the point:

  • “Local Chef, Mashama Bailey, Puts Savannah Food Back on the JBFA Radar Screen After Near Twenty-five Year Hiatus”
  • “BBQ Master Rodney Scott Changes the Game by Winning ‘Best Chef – Southeast’ at This Year’s JBFA’s”
  • “Inclusion Was the Winner at This Year’s JBFA’s”

–  Johno

The Making of An Old White Guy

It is the time of year when people reflect on their past and consider their future.

So here is my year end reflection.

I turned fifty this year.

You know what that means?

I am an old, white guy.

That sucks for me because, in my estimation, the biggest, current threat to civil society and progress is…


I am having trouble reconciling this because I do not feel like I am part of the problem. At least I do my best to avoid being part of the problem.

I mean I don’t ever troll around Twitter and Facebook calling people with whom I disagree “libtards,” “fascists,” “nutjobs,” “baby killers” or “pieces of shit.” In addition, I honestly do not have time to care to lock anyone up who does not truly deserve to be locked up regardless of their political leanings – I’d rather just exercise my right to vote. I am not a conspiracy theorist nor do I live in a fantasy world. I endeavor never to berate people, bully them into submission or use a scattershot approach to confrontation. Direct and surgical has always been a more effective approach for me anyway.

But here I am, still an old, white guy.

Is this the face of an OLD WHITE GUY? (Photo by Cedric Smith)

I do not take joy in another’s pain. I do not find it funny when a mouthy celebrity who has said stupid shit in her past, maybe even offensive things, gets lambasted in social and other media because she is currently suffering from mental illness and is potentially suicidal. I don’t see the satisfaction that people get in that. Maybe she has always suffered from mental illness. Maybe that is why she said the stupid shit in the first place. Who knows? Maybe we all have things in our past that we would rather not have revisited. I know I do.

But here I am, still an old, white guy.

I try very hard not to use euphemisms like “the people who live near me,” “the people causing all the crime,” “those people,” or “I have a lot of black friends,” to mask my true feelings. (For the record, I do not have a lot of black friends). Further, I believe that most police officers are good people who do the job to serve their communities and not to kill young, black men. I believe that racism has been significantly mitigated over the last one hundred and fifty-five years, but, that said, I also believe there is a lot more work to be done. I know we must, as a society, continue in our efforts to eliminate racism completely and eradicate the general intolerance that seems to be building.

But here I am, still an old, white guy.

I do not believe that the way for our civic, governmental, business, religious and social leaders to lead is to do so by pointing their fingers of blame, ducking for cover, pandering to or preying upon their constituencies or sitting on their hands. I do not rant on Social Media telling others how smart I am only to soothe my own insecurities (which are indeed plentiful). Luckily, I’m not that smart anyway.

But here I am, still an old, white guy.

I do not support a work environment in which any class of people can be systematically harassed, harangued, disrespected or physically abused. I do not tolerate inappropriate comments, inappropriate touching or inappropriate leering in our workplace. I also totally frown upon junk-showing of any sort, unwanted texting and sexting, or the demanding of naked, nude or otherwise provocative photos from one’s subordinates. Further, I expect my business partner to hold me accountable, kick me in the nuts and terminate our relationship if I am not upholding and abiding by those standards.

But here I am, still an old, white guy.

I am a deeply flawed old, white guy. I can be selfish, dismissive, obtuse and stubborn. I can be mean to my wife and angry with my dogs when, in actuality, I am really just frustrated elsewhere in my life. I can be condescending, prideful and a bit of prick when I choose to be. I forget stuff and run my mouth in an unfiltered way at times. I swear often and hardly ever smell the roses. I have been known to drink too much, stay up too late and, if those things happen to happen simultaneously, well… then I can pontificate until the cows come home. Old friends of mine even came up with a term for this particular circumstance. They refer to that me as “4 AM Johno.” If you meet him, save yourself and run.

So, through all of this reflection, here is what I discovered about OLD WHITE GUYS.

I am not one.

Being an OLD WHITE GUY is an affliction of the fearful. It is a state-of-mind that does not care what your race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation or political leanings are. OLD WHITE GUYNESS is propagated by leaders who sell fear for a living. They sell fear of the different and the threat of the unknown. They offer, as an alternative, sanctuary and safety in homogeny – white, black, Christian, Muslim, Republican, Democrat, gay or straight homogeny.

Buy into the fear in which those folks trade and every last one of us can become the “OLD WHITE GUY.”

But not me.

I am not signing up for that.

I am fighting that fight with my last breath.

The only things I want pinning that label on me are the facts that I am old, I am white and I am a guy.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all.

– Johno

Words Matter


The truth is highly under rated.


I said it.

I mean there is nothing I love more than responding to reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook; especially when the reviewers declare things as the truth. For example, one person recently commented on our new menu structure. They did not say that they did not like the menu or that the structure did not work for them. They declared that our menu’s “attempt at cleverness fails.” Of course, we are not actually trying to be clever but rather Mashama is paying tribute to her cooking idol – Edna Lewis. But, I get it, we failed. Another guest declared us “awful” because we suck at what we do and not at all because we had to discontinue alcohol service to a member of their group off as he was large, belligerent, aggressive and intoxicated to the point of scary.

Social media has made it so, so easy to make everyone an expert in truths. God, I love it!

The truth is the reason we elected a non-politician President? Us American people (all for one and one for all – that is America), were sick and tired of the Washington mainstream not being straight with us. Our elected officials say one thing and do another and that happens from Beltway to byway and everywhere in between.

But not the new guy. He’s a plain talker.

We wanted a straight shooter. Not in the sense of shooting someone in the middle Fifth Avenue and getting away with it ‘straight shooter’ but in the unfiltered honesty sense. Someone who tells it like it is. Someone who does not mince words and who calls it like he sees it. A ball’s a ball and a strike’s a strike. No questions asked.

Case in point, President Trump is not afraid to define all that meddlesome reporting as what it is – ‘fake news.’ He is equally not afraid to identify some lighthearted banter about grabbing women by their most intimate of areas as what it was – locker room talk. Boys being boys. He in no way meant that he finds it totally fair to leverage his power of celebrity and wealth to forcibly touch and kiss women as an opening pickup line with no fear of consequence or recourse.


John Besh and Harvey Weinstein got the same memo the Pres got when they started creating the corporate culture within their own empires. Oh, and let’s not forget Bill Clinton and now, whaaaatttt, George Herbert Walker Bush. Apparently they all got that memo about the reality of locker room talk and good clean fun. Come on people, the truth is that a little pat on the rump never hurt anybody. Right

(Unless, maybe, of course if the person doing the patting did it because they felt it was their right to do it and not because they were in the consensual throes of passion and he was begging for it. In which case I say ‘spank that ass.’ No judgments here).

The fact is that what we say and how we define things matters now and will really matter in the future. Words matter. They always have and they always will. Social media and a twenty-four/seven news cycle should not strip us of decorum and honest discourse at every level because the truth is a very powerful thing.

Ask any parent, one who doesn’t have their head in the sand, this question – after Bill Clinton defined oral sex as “not sex” did it not become “not sex” to an entire generation of children? That is indeed the truth… now.

So this all begs the question – what is being defined at this very moment that will become the truth going forward?

And regardless of your political proclivities, the idea of a dynamic truth becoming the new status quo has to worry you just a little.

Doesn’t it?

– Johno

Fraternity, Community, Pastrami

I have been writing about leadership and accountability in my last couple of posts. I truly believe that the only way that we can solve Savannah’s problems is through the coalescing of the disparate voices around the common issues and solutions upon which we can all agree. This relies on leadership and accountability being firmly present.

That said, I was reminded in the last couple of months that getting people to all pull in the same direction is not always so easy. Being new to the restaurant business I had no expectations about it when we started The Grey a few years ago. I went into it with some basic goals. I wanted to build something that was community oriented and, given my Italian heritage, food to me equals community. I wanted us to be good at it. And, I wanted The Grey to be accretive to Savannah.

My experiences during this period have been overwhelmingly positive. Our team, our guests and our fellow restaurateurs, chefs and peers have, for the most part, been exceptionally supportive. This summer we experienced that support beyond our wildest dreams in the wake of the tragedy that took the life of our General Manager, Scott Waldrup. This weekend that camaraderie is showing up again as many of us rally around each other in the face of Hurricane Irma.

But, in turn, about a month ago, I got a fairly stark reminder that there are always going to be people in this world who just do not get it. This is such a minor happening on one level and then so revealing on another that I was at first reticent to share it but I think it is worth it.

The protagonist in my little tale of woe is pastrami.

Yes the cured meat.

It is a simple tale.

In late July, we at The Grey did something not so very revolutionary…


Wait for it…

We added a pastrami sandwich on rye bread to our Diner Bar menu.

The world needs more pastrami sandwiches

A damned pastrami sandwich.

As many of you know, Mashama and I are both from NYC where Katz’s, Russ & Daughters, and the Second Avenue Deli are icons to us. We love deli food; Jewish deli food in particular. Can’t get enough of it really. Mashama and I have been talking about a pastrami sandwich since we met; obsessing about it even from time-to-time.

And in July we finally got our act together and announced the inclusion of one of the great New York City staple sandwiches on our Diner Bar menu. Sous chef Brian (who is pastrami crazy) cured the pastrami, brined and fermented some sauerkraut, ratcheted up some good deli mustard and pastry chef Erin contributed a rye loaf that is just bombass bread. We debuted our creation via an Instagram post.

Now we were thinking that as far as cured meats go, there is nothing very offensive about pastrami. I mean it’s not liverwurst, or that bologna-like substance with the olives in it, right? I am sure there are people out there who don’t care for it, but hey, pastrami can’t really piss you off.

But we were wrong.

We did offend someone – one woman in particular. This woman’s response to our Instagram post that pictured and described the aforementioned pastrami sandwich was – “You mean just like [insert name of a well-known, local restaurant]’s sandwich??”

I know it is hard to believe, but another restaurant in town already had a pastrami sandwich on their menu.


But, in this woman’s mind the only inference to draw is that all other restaurants (or maybe just us) should be prohibited from putting a pastrami sandwich on their menu. Her clear implication was that we somehow ripped off the idea of a pastrami sandwich from this other restaurant by having the audacity to house-cure pastrami, fucking pastrami for God’s sake, and offer it to our guests in the form of a sandwich. A classic sandwich at that.

Dear offended-by-pastrami-lady, where we come from (which I think is the same place from which you hail) pastrami is as unique as the places that create it. Just ask a fellow New Yorker if they prefer the pastrami, or corned beef for that matter, from Second Avenue Deli or Katz’s and you will get an earful going into great detail about consistency, spice blend , fattiness, leanness, the bread, the mustard, the kraut and why one is so much better than the other.

Now everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that is for sure. But what puzzled me about this woman’s accusation is that she works in the food and beverage industry for a company that provides services to us and other restaurants in town. To be fair, she is not the first person to put her own wit and opinion above the good of the industry she serves nor will she be the last. For those of us in this business, our feelings are not hurt by these comments or critiques whether they are fair or unfair. You must have thick skin when you put yourself out there the way that we all do and it is indeed within people’s rights, just as it is this woman’s right to call us pastrami thieves, to say anything they wish.

But it makes me wonder…

What is the hope of uniting Savannah around our larger problems and challenges when there are people in the world who choose to not even commit to supporting the very industry that powers their personal livelihood? How do we keep pressing forward with our oft-referenced growing food scene when there are people within our own ranks who cannot even follow mother’s advice – ‘If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all?’ How many people who make shitty comments does it take to impede progress?

Inside The Grey, we have a zero-tolerance policy among our team for this sort of foolishness. We preach ‘one-for-all and all-for-one’ internally and we feel the exact same way about every single person, group and establishment trying to elevate the food game here in Savannah.

As we pull together this weekend to weather Hurricane Irma, it is a good time to remind ourselves that we cannot reach our full potential as a restaurant, business or greater community unless we genuinely come together and folks lead by example. While this woman’s quip may seem small and insignificant on its face, I believe it is anything but. I believe her words, however subtle or veiled in her social media claim that she is ‘fluent in sarcasm,’ are the words of divisiveness and our fragile food community should not tolerate it from within our own ranks or from our service providers. We should call it out and let those people know that they are either with all of us or against all of us.

Then we would be helping to set an example for our greater community where the problems are very real ones.

– Johno


Leadership is a funny thing.

There are no hard and fast rules that determine what makes a good leader which makes leadership a bit like the Supreme Court’s famous 1964 ruling on obscenity – you know it when you see it.

And, you know it when you don’t see it.

Since my colleague and friend Scott Waldrup was murdered in the very early morning hours of July 5, 2017 on the corner of Bay and Barnard streets, I have been thinking a lot about leadership. It is during times of extreme adversity that natural leaders lead and new ones emerge.

By way of example, look at what has taken place over the past nine days since the violent tragedy took place last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Leaders have emerged in unexpected places; leaders like Susan Bro. Ms. Bro is the mother of Heather Heyer, the young lady who was slain by an alleged neo-Nazi, hatemonger. Ms. Bro is certainly mourning her daughter Heather with a strength, dignity and resolve that is downright inspiring.

Susan Bro eulogizing her daughter Heather

If that were not enough, she is also taking her personal tragedy and turning it into a force to further inspire people to loudly reject racism, fascism and, the most egregious of crimes, complacency in our elected officials.

If you were in Pulaski Square on July 7th when Scott’s family hosted a ‘Celebration of Life’ for him, you saw the same grace, resolve and dignity in Scott’s amazing mother Terry. She also mourned her son that day, much like Ms. Bro, with fortitude and courage. But then she called upon all of us to ensure that Scott’s death should not and cannot be in vain. She called upon all of us to better ourselves, to better our neighbors and to better our City.

Terry and family at ‘Celebration of Life’ for Scott

Why is it that these two women, who had every right to crawl up into little balls and beg of us that we leave them alone with their grief, chose to lead us while they themselves were in their very darkest of moments?

I believe it is because that is who they are.

They are the women who have the remarkable capacity to subjugate their own feelings of devastation and loss so that they can support other people by calling upon their gifts of empathy, understanding and, yes, leadership. Terry Waldrup and Susan Bro exposed their own broken hearts so that we, the people whose need was so great that it was, to them, palpable, could touch those hearts and draw upon their strength to fortify our own. They allowed all of us to, quite literally, take a piece of them so that we could mend ourselves.

By the same token, there have been many failures of leadership on display as well.

Throughout my lifetime I have never really, truly understood it when people spoke about an American President or other world leader as someone who ‘unified’ their country or some international contingent. This week, I discovered why. Every American President since I have been old enough to be aware of such things, regardless of their political leanings, has indeed unified our nation in times of crisis. It is an absolute. That is what Presidents do. As such I have never had to intellectually digest someone not doing that. That was until I watched and listened to President Trump in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

Whether you found his words to be the cold, hard truth or completely lacking a moral clarity and purpose, I think we can all agree that he has not united our country. Beyond not genuinely attempting to unite us around a national tragedy and disgrace, he has somehow actually managed to polarize us further.

That is, in my opinion, a leadership failure of epic proportions.

During my time in Savannah I have had the pleasure to meet much of Savannah’s civic and political leadership, some past and some present. Most are good, talented and decent people. Most are well-intentioned and care about you and me and all of Savannah’s citizenry.

But caring and good intentions do not, on their own, a leader make.

Being bound by political and cultural loyalties in the face of evil is not leadership.

Pandering to any one group or the other is not leadership.

Attacking the people with whom you disagree is not leadership.

Obstructing, bickering and working at cross-purposes is not leadership.

Failing to empathize with people in circumstances different than your own is not leadership.

Failing to communicate clearly with your stakeholders is not leadership.

And not showing up is certainly not leadership.

All of this, in my typically long-winded way, brings me to my point.

I do not feel led. In fact, I feel a bit lost. In speaking with many people since that horrible night in July, I have learned that many other Savannah residents feel the same way. Many of us do not understand any of Savannah’s strategic or tactical goals for facing down our challenges. We do not hear a cohesive voice coming from our government, agencies or other organizations meant to achieve progress and success. We do not even know what success is or how it is defined in Savannah.

I am sure strategic and tactical plans exist. They must. We cannot be working without a script, can we? So who is sharing those plans and uniting us all around them? Who is the person pounding the table and saying “Follow me. I have the plan. Follow me and together we will make Savannah better.”

Since Scott’s death I have had countless people come to me and ask me how they can get activated in Scott’s memory because they want Savannah to heal and get better. We all love Savannah. That is why we are here and why we are investing our time and resources into it. We are here to help. I raise this issue to help. We are here to join with our leaders to face down Savannah’s challenges and overcome them.

But we have to know the plan. We have to know what success is and how we measure it. We must be informed by those of you making the decisions.

We, as a community, must be unified and we must be led.

– Johno

(If you have any thoughts you want to share regarding this, Johno Morisano can be reached via email at

My Cheers to Scott

On Friday, July 7, 2017, in Pulaski Square, I delivered some words at the Celebration of Life that was held for my friend and colleague Scott Waldrup. There were a fair number of people in attendance who asked me to make those words available online and I thought publishing them as July’s blog post was an apropos way to do this.

My only caveat is that the words below are exactly what I wrote that Friday morning immediately before Scott’s memorial and I am quite certain that what I spoke at Scott’s event was somewhat different. I felt like I was getting a bit long-winded that day and I started adlibbing and shortening my speech (something that doesn’t come all that naturally to me as many of you know). As I cannot remember the final words I spoke, my only option is to publish the words that I wrote. Sorry for the length of them.

I want to promise my fellow Savannah residents that I will use all tools available to me to help to affect the change that I discussed last Friday afternoon (and that is the subject of what is written below) and Mashama and I are determined to fully activate around the issues Scott’s murder has spotlighted for us.

Thank you all for the support you have shown Scott’s family, Mashama, The Grey team, Carol and me. We can never thank you enough Savannah.

Scott Waldrup behind the bar at The Grey

Hey, I am Johno Morisano from The Grey and I have worked with Scott for most of the past three years.

I cannot tell you anything you do not already know about Scott if you were lucky enough to be acquainted with him or blessed enough to call him your friend. Scott, it is safe to say, was not a chameleon. There was nothing hidden or secreted about him. Scott was who Scott was. End of story.

If you are here because you read about Scott online this week or in the newspapers, all I can say is that all of it is true.

He was kind.

He was thoughtful.

He was generous.

He was passionate.

He was smart.

He was curious.

He was absolutely hilarious.

And, in case you didn’t know it, Scott was gay.

He was that rare person who was simultaneously an idealist and a cynic.

He had a remarkably well-coifed red beard that, despite its sheer volume and epicness, was only outmatched by the relentless smile that that red beard made futile efforts to conceal.

He loved Speedo Sunday only slightly less than his family Terry, Jen, Stacey and Dave.

And he loved his soulmate Tart with a childlike giddiness that made the rest of us take note and give our own soulmates an extra squeeze every now and then just to try and keep up with him.

Scott shined in everything he did. He shined as a friend, colleague, son, partner, brother, mentor, mentee, activist and activator.

Scott was pure goodness plain and simple.

And this past Tuesday night on Scott’s favorite day of the year, the 4th of July, a car traveling at a rate of speed too fast for the police to have yet determined, a car filled with homicidal lunatics, hit him so very hard that he was dead before his body even made it to the pavement. It busted his red-bearded face and his getting-ready-for-Speedo-Sunday body so badly that the coroner’s office advised his mother not to look at her baby boy one final time before his remains were cremated and the vessel that contained his extraordinary soul would never again be seen by his mom, sisters, father, partner or any of us. A tragedy indeed.

As is often the case with life, a fairly complex social undertaking Scott might say, tragedy also brings with it surprise and hope. For Carol and me, spending so much time with Scott’s family this week has been one of those so very good surprises. If you ever wondered how Scott ended up the man he did, just spend some time with these folks and it will become evident very quickly. The resilience and love they have shown is humbling.

And if you ever wanted to see the best of Savannah, well, look around you. Ask all of us in Scott’s work family at The Grey and in his immediate and extended families and we will all tell you about the infinite support that we received from our friends, neighbors, competitors and strangers these last few days. The love that we have been showered with is life-altering. There is no way we exit this week, on so many levels, the people we were when we entered it.

But, by the same token, if you can bear to see the worst of Savannah, well that was on display this week too.

I know for many of us the worst is also difficult to look at but the time during which we have stuck our heads in the ground or accepted governmental paralysis because of social, racial and class divides must come to an end.

Scott was killed this week by three murderers and frankly none of us should care if they were black murderers or white murderers. My business partner and the chef at The Grey, was crossing that street with Scott when he was struck and killed and through some small twist of fate Mashama Bailey’s life was spared by the narrowest of margins.

The color of Scott and Mashama’s skin mattered not in the moments in which we lost one of Savannah’s brightest lights and held on to another.

What is going on in Savannah is not a black/white or gay/straight issue. It is a Savannah issue. Political and cultural loyalties do not matter when people are dying and all of our civic, city, county and state leaders need to cast those loyalties and encumbrances aside and work together. We need to work together to create change and to solve this problem so that people – black people, white people, brown people, all people – stop dying.

For almost three years, Mashama and I have been sharing stories of The Grey and Savannah with the media, near and far, about all that is good about Savannah. We have told them why we all moved here and why we chose this city in which to live our lives and invest our time, energy and resources here.

This week that narrative changed for me. Maybe it should have happened sooner, but this week, because of the senseless death of one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, it all changed.

But here is where the hope comes in. I was speaking with someone from the community this morning and that person reminded me of something. He reminded me that bones of this City, this place – Savannah – are good. And we can make its narrative right again.

But it is going to require real, substantive change at every level.

I am a member of this community and I do not accept the status quo any longer. I am on the side of change. Our leaders should not accept the status quo any longer and if they are also on the side of change, well, then I am with them.

And as for Scott Waldrup, well he never accepted the status quo.

It’s time for us to all take one final lesson from Scott.

Cheers to Scott!

The Florence Was Good for Savannah

Hugh Acheson and Kyle Jacovino deserve medals.

The Florence was an honest and mostly successful attempt to elevate the level of food being cooked and served in Savannah. I say “mostly successful” because it obviously didn’t work financially or they would not have closed on Sunday June 25, 2017.

Kyle and Hugh in their groundbreaking restaurant – The Florence

I have read the articles this past week by the various writers whose jobs are to opine on such things. I have read about how Savannah lacks a service culture and how Savannahians say they want good stuff but aren’t willing to pay for it. I have read about different takes on the menu and service model at The Florence and where those may have been to blame. I have also read about how delicious Kyle’s damn pizza is and how some of his pastas are truly ethereal. I experienced first-hand the Negroni tap that they introduced to this market. Frankly, they should get a separate medal just for that. And, on a personal note I must say that there are only a few dishes in Savannah that I truly crave and the Diavola pizza at The Florence was at the very top of that list. I am going to miss it tremendously (although I am hoping that Kyle is plotting something to bring it back sooner rather than later).

In all the writing that took place this week offering opinions as to why The Florence was not able to endure, the real story seemed, to me at least, to get lost. The real story is that Hugh and Kyle tried hard to change things. They put their money and their time where their mouths were and they built something that Savannah had never seen before. Then they took their considerable skills and an artist’s point of view on food and wine and they put those on display not only for all the world to see and taste but for so much of that world to critique, compliment and criticize.

As a restaurant owner and someone whose prior career was in arts and entertainment, I am very used to being criticized and critiqued – it comes with the territory when you stick your neck out there as we do in the food and pop culture businesses. You invite people to judge you and in this era of Social Media, people are very eager to accept your invitation. Kyle and Hugh are consummate professionals and they handled all of it with grace and dignity.

So rather than trying to figure out why The Florence didn’t make it, I would just like to say a giant thank you to both Hugh and Kyle for sticking your fucking necks out there, having a specific point of view on food and wine and sharing it with us for the past three years. I am grateful for knowing you both, I am certain that you will continue to do wonderful things and, alas, I am really going to miss that damn pizza. – Johno

No “I” in “T-E-A-M”

We are all in it together

The old saying that “there ain’t no ‘I’ in the word T-E-A-M,” has never been more applicable than it is here at The Grey. We have built this organization around the premise that if all of us who are on this team put each other’s well-being above all else then taking care of our guests will be the seamless outcome of those efforts. For the most part, this has held true.

In the last several months staffing has been incredibly difficult here in Savannah (and everywhere else from what we understand). We have been understaffed in almost every section of the restaurant and at almost every position. This is the result of a combination of the normal attrition of the industry in which we operate and a bad confluence of events including some of our strongest folks moving to other parts of the country.

There is no way to endure these types of struggles without it impacting those of us who continue to work hard for each other and our guests and, well, frankly, the guests themselves. In the past few months we have asked our server and kitchen staffs to do everything from pick up janitorial and ‘dishpit’ shifts to work multiple double shifts in a single week. We have asked our managers to do the same. Most people have been working six days a week and some even seven. Savory cooks are plating pastry because we have not had a pastry person in several months – it’s a really long story that one. And all of this has been going on behind the scenes while we are in the busiest part of our year.

When you put this kind of stress on people, the stress of no time to themselves, doing jobs far from their comfort zones and asking them to work all of their waking hours in the stressful environment of a restaurant that strives to be exceptional, you expect pushback. Frankly, you expect some people to crack.

But that is not what has happened here. People have responded with smiles and positivity. Every person has stepped up to do something with which they are not comfortable and that they know little to nothing about. People have mopped floors and cleaned bathrooms. People have cooked and shucked and sliced; all often in the same night. Cooks have put in sixty and seventy hours per week. Management has been here day and night; night and day.

And for the most part, we have covered our tracks as it relates to our guests. Sure, we can see in our reviews (the joy of instant feedback in this industry) that food is sometimes taking too long to arrive at a table on some nights and that our limited dessert menu can test the patience of certain of our guests, but, all-in-all, we are surviving and maintaining our standards.

Pastry is on its way back. Staffing has almost ironed itself out. We are surviving.

But it is never easy.

Teamwork truly does makes the dream work.

Thanks to everyone on The Grey team. – Johno

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