Chef de savior: Trident Tech’s Thornley hailed for saving local culinary industry

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Johnson & Wales University (JWU), once the prime source for trained chefs in Charleston, shocked the city’s bustling restaurant industry in 2002 when it announced it would turn off its stoves in the city’s old cigar factory and move to Charlotte.

For many, the decision by the Providence, R.I.-based culinary school to leave after two decades in the Lowcountry during a national recession was just as scary as the 1996 closure of the Charleston Naval Base for what it could mean for the tri-county economy.

Charleston Realtor Jimmy Bailey, a former three-term member of the S.C. House of Representatives, remembers an unexpected meeting with former state Sens. Glenn McConnell and Arthur Ravenel that led to a committee to find a culinary school to fill the pending loss of JWU.

Bailey recalls he asked the legislators, “‘You have any idea how this will affect the culinary scene in Charleston? It could be just as bad for the restaurant industry as the closing of the Naval Base.’ McConnell said, ‘Lord have mercy! We haven’t even thought about that!’ ”

The two senators asked Bailey to lead a committee to find JWU’s replacement. But without a training facility other than the culinary school’s cigar factory campus, there were no takers, Bailey recalled. With no other outside options, the committee looked local to Trident Technical College.


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