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Industrial pump house becoming riverside eatery

The Pump House on the Catawba River in Riverwalk is expected to open soon after two years of preparation.
The Pump House on the Catawba River in Riverwalk is expected to open soon after two years of preparation.

From conception through construction, and now pre-opening preparations, the owners of The Pump House have paid attention to the details.

Elliott Close and Colby Mosier want to make sure the former industrial pump house turned tablecloth restaurant – on the Catawba River in Rock Hill’s Riverwalk development – has the right feel.

Each of the restaurant’s tables was locally handcrafted, as well as a two-story wine storage cabinet that holds more than 900 bottles. The beer tap has an industrial feel that looks like it once pumped water from the Catawba River. Now, 12 craft beers – six from South Carolina, six from North Carolina – will flow from its pipes.

No detail is too small. A recent training session went over the spigots for the water and tea dispensers. While they look the same, they should never be put on the wrong dispensers.

Close and Mosier know the details are essential – as well as exasperating.

The Pump House is five months behind schedule and so far over budget that neither Close nor Mosier will say how much the project has cost them. Close, whose family ran the Springs textile mills, will only say the cost is “in the millions” and “a good bit” more than expected.

Still, they won’t sacrifice on quality just for the sake of opening. They are intent on creating a restaurant that is not only an upscale, fine-dining experience, but one that is repeatable and not just a place to celebrate life’s special moments.

It has taken more than two years to turn into a restaurant the massive concrete building that pumped almost five million gallons per day to the Celanese plant. Close and Mosier have monitored the progress almost daily, seeing the slow, incremental changes.

Nonetheless, each says they experience the “wow” factor when seeing the nearly finished, final product.

The “wow” factor could be the eight-inch pine boards salvaged from an 1880s textile mill used throughout the restaurant. The wall that separates the dining room from the prep and kitchen areas has the board installed vertically to accentuate the rectangular-shaped building’s length.

Or it could be any of the views of the river. Close and Mosier tell the story of what they believe is a bald eagle that routinely flies up the river to the U.S. 21 bridge and then turns around, soaring past The Pump House.

When it comes to the restaurant’s operations, the “wow” factor falls to manager Chris Johnson and chef Michael Griswold.

“We are both perfectionists, and we want to exceed expectations,” Johnson said.

Griswold’s job is to give Southern comfort food a new twist. He promises everything will be fresh, relying on local farms and markets for produce. The fish will come from the coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina. The breads and sauces will be made on site.

Presentation will also be key, a challenge as most Southern comfort foods are your basic browns and greens with a splash of mac-and-cheese yellow. But, Griswold promises, the menu is “not all fried green tomatoes.”

Entree prices will be between $20 and $30.

Johnson will oversee all aspects of the restaurant’s operation. His challenge is to make sure every usable space in the restaurant is put to “purposeful” use without affecting the dining experience.

It is harder than it sounds. The restaurant’s space is “huge, but it’s small,” Johnson said.

But the biggest challenge will be meeting customer expectations that have grown with each Facebook post or drive across the Catawba River bridge.

Opening is anticipated later this month.

“We have nearly 4,000 Facebook likes and we haven’t even served a meal,” Johnson said. “There is a luxury of people waiting, but it’s pressure.”

Don Worthington: 803-329-4066, @rhherald_donw

Want to know more?

For more information about The Pump House, go to facebook.com/RHPumphouse or call 803-329-8888.

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