Riding by 117 Trinity St. in Abbeville almost daily after work, Erica McCier would look at the space, with its large windows and dream.
She envisioned a small-town restaurant with a big-city feel.
“I could just see people sitting here, dining, with a view of Trinity Street and the (Trinity Episcopal) church,” McCier said, noting the space was previously occupied by a slot car business, followed later by a personal care products business, Breezy Quarters, which moved to a different Abbeville location.
“It’s a place where families can enjoy lunch and Sunday brunch, and a place where mom and dad can enjoy fine dining, without kids, during the evening,” McCier explains.
With a Southern and globally inspired fusion-style menu, McCier’s patrons order up collard greens, black-eyed peas and smoked turkey, in an egg roll, and fried green tomato stacks with creamy, Cajun-style corn maque choux or a deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwich, paired with a green tomato jam.
When 117 Trinity came up for lease, McCier took the remaining $1,000 in her checking account to pay rent on the space and put down a deposit on the building. She acquired it in 2019.
“Then, COVID hit and it was rough,” she said. “We didn’t have a chance to open the doors. Construction was at a standstill. Everything was on hold, for months.”
In late July 2021, McCier’s dream became reality, with the soft opening of Indigenous Underground, a restaurant promoting food, cultural influences and live music.
“We’re trying to bring something like you would find in bigger cities to our small town of Abbeville,” McCier, 48, said.
She’s a former school teacher, first in visual arts at the middle school level, and later culinary arts at the high school level, who went to culinary school after overcoming major health setbacks, including kidney disease and renal failure, which required a kidney transplant.
“I started my first official business, catering, named in honor of my mother, while I was on dialysis,” McCier said. “Just by word of mouth, people started putting my name out there and I started getting more clients and bigger events.” In 2015, McCier opened Trudy’s at the historic Belmont Inn.
“It was rough at that point, being a single parent with three kids under the age of 18,” she said. “I decided to let it go, because my family was more important.”
She started collaborating with Kyle Fuller and his neighboring business, Divine Your Space, to host outdoor dining experiences in Abbeville. And, she did a lot of in-home, private dining events.
“That helped me a lot during COVID-19, when restaurants were shut down,” McCier said. “We had to think of ways to be creative and make money to get Indigenous Underground open.”
During the soft opening the week of July 26, some diners frequented Indigenous Underground each day it was open.
“Customer favorites have been grits with alligator or shrimp,” McCier said. “Luckily, I’ve been able to find most of my fresh produce at the local farmers’ market, including ingredients for a succotash with okra, corn and green tomatoes. ... There’s self-expression on a plate. It’s art. You eat with your eyes first. You also have diners who are more health conscious now.”
Will Metts, owner/founder of Metts Organix in Greenwood and a new agricultural cooperative, Fenway’s FARMacy, and McCier are on much the same page when it comes to farm-to-table.
“We would like to collaborate on a dinner at some point,” Metts said. “Erica (McCier) came out and toured my farm and she has utilized some of our green tomatoes.”
Husband and wife Bill and Molly Savitz, of The Village Grill in Abbeville, gave McCier her first culinary job after her kidney transplant in 2013.
That restaurant is revered locally and regionally and is approaching its 29th year.
Bill Savitz is an Abbeville County native and says The Village Grill has embraced the farm-to-table concept for several years, working with local growers and McCier is, too.
“They (Bill and Molly) taught me everything from baking to line cook to prep cook and front of the house as a server,” McCier said. “They’ve supported me and really are like family.”
On Sept. 13, Bill and Molly Savitz had lunch at Indigenous Underground, sharing a salad and a burger.
“The fact that Erica was persistent when she first wanted to work in a restaurant made an impression upon me,” Bill Savitz said. “We hired her. ... She started out as a prep cook on the days we were closed, and helping Molly with desserts. I really like the Indigenous Underground space. ... She’s got some neat artwork in there. And the food is delicious. ... Doing farm-to-table is not an easy task, but it pays off in the long run, with the food and the environment.”
Molly Savitz says Erica was, and is, up to the task of working in a fast-paced restaurant environment.
“She (Erica) is absolutely stunningly beautiful,” Molly Savitz said. “Inside and out. She has a big heart and a good work ethic and she is an amazing woman. ...I’m very, very, very picky when it comes to food. ...Erica’s food is really, really good. You can tell it’s fresh and the presentation is nice. It’s a really nice dining experience.”
Shanna Stoll of Main Street Coffee Co. in Abbeville said her small business is always looking for ways to serve the community and expand.
Indigenous Underground features Main Street Coffee’s desserts and they often sell out.
“This is getting our name out even more,” Stoll told the Index-Journal via email. “We are so much more than just coffee. The privilege to become friends with other business and restaurant owners in Abbeville is something we don’t take for granted. There is so much value in those relationships.”
With “hope and prayer,” McCier says it is possible to open a restaurant.
Check out a specially-themed dinner evening, A Night of the Seven Deadly Sins, with music Oct. 29, featuring trombonist Hank Bilal and seven special menu items. Call 864-980-9054.