When Doug Cross decided to retire two and a half years ago, he was an executive with Atrium Windows and Doors, a manufacturing company located just south of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and not all that interested in taking it easy. But upon reaching his early 60s and with family, especially grandchildren, miles away, Cross and his wife decided to pack up and move to Greenville, South Carolina.
At the same time, Cross’s middle son, Mack, a real estate development professional in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, was looking for opportunities that would utilize his real estate acumen. Mack has a master’s in real estate development from Clemson and had been involved in redeveloping several strip shopping centers. Cross felt now that he had some free time, he and his son could work together.
Soon, the Crosses formed Four Oaks Property Group with the intention of finding a strip shopping center to redevelop and flip for a profit. It wasn’t to be.
“As it turns out, the economics in that world are not all that attractive,” Cross says. “Grocery-anchored strip shopping centers have continued to be pretty attractive for investors, and there’s just too much money chasing those deals. We looked at a lot of properties all over the Carolinas and just couldn’t figure out how to make the economics work. Finally, Mack said, ‘Dad, we’re going to have to do something unique.’”
So the father-and-son team began tossing around other development ideas. The spark of inspiration came when Mack mentioned his frustration with the lack of low-key, family- and pet-friendly dining options in the Lowcountry. Cross felt there was the same type of gap in Greenville as well. While researching community-focused eateries, Mack visited a concept in Long Beach, California, called SteelCraft. Sitting on less than a quarter acre of land, SteelCraft is an urban food hall composed of various restaurants operating out of repurposed shipping containers surrounding a common gathering area.
“Mack called me and told me it was the coolest thing he’d ever seen,” Cross recounts. “We decided we had to do something similar in South Carolina.”
After researching other food hall and outdoor community dining concepts, the duo decided Greenville would be the perfect location for their first venture. Searching Google Earth for possible locations, Mack discovered a tiny sliver of property sandwiched between Greenville’s minor-league baseball field and a city-owned parking lot.
“It was a very underutilized piece of property,” Cross says. “It was being used to stage plumbing supplies, and at one point it had been an auto dealership. But it’s right in the middle of Greenville’s West End, which is redeveloping rapidly.”
The Crosses intended to purchase the land, but the 0.45-acre property is owned by a private foundation, so a long-term ground lease was negotiated. With lease in hand, Mack and Doug named their concept Gather GVL and began the search for local entrepreneurs as well as unused shipping containers and modular buildings to house the kitchens and serving areas.
“There are three themes that are part of our vision,” Cross says. “One is to create a community gathering space because people are looking for places to go hang out with friends and family and pets. Two is a place for craft food and beverage—this is all about local entrepreneurs, local sourcing, and local farms. And third is sustainability. We’ve given a lot of thought to making sure what we’re doing is sustainable. Repurposing shipping containers is certainly one part of that because there are more shipping containers coming into our country than going out.”
When Gather GVL opens in late fall of 2019, the enterprise will consist of 13 individual concepts, including 10 restaurants and three beverage-focused outlets surrounding a community seating area. The food options will range from pizza and pasta to burgers, poke bowls, craft ice cream sandwiches, and even a fried chicken and doughnut concept. Gather GVL will also include a rooftop venue for private events as well as a stage presenting local entertainment and a screen for family movie nights.
The concept is a blessing to aspiring restaurateurs who have the talent and ambition, but not the funds, to open a freestanding establishment. “Greenville has really become a restaurant destination,” Cross notes. “And that has caused real estate and lease prices to spike. If you’re a restaurateur and want to be in downtown Greenville, it’s almost impossible to do that unless you have something like this.”
Looking to the future, the Crosses hope to create a similar concept in the Lowcountry, and if things go well, perhaps in other areas throughout the Carolinas. For Doug Cross, it’s the perfect retirement plan for a man much too ambitious to retire.