Steven Niketas ’90 remembers walking past the worn-down building at 114 St Philip St. on his way to class while an undergrad at the College of Charleston.
“I never remember it being occupied,” says Niketas. “I always thought it could be a cool space.” The building that once housed the C.W. Westendorff & Sons hardware store had stood empty since before Hurricane Hugo. Niketas never suspected that he would one day have a hand in bringing the address back to life as restaurant The Westendorff.
Niketas studied business while at the College and credits professor Rebecca Herring – whom he calls an “amazing professor” – for inspiring him to minor in accounting. In his last year at the College, Niketas met a Virginia-based real estate developer who convinced him to move north. At 24, he opened his first restaurant, Mosaic, in Richmond, Virginia. He opened another Mosaic in Mount Pleasant in 2004 and split his time between locations. What finally brought Niketas back to Charleston was the The Westendorff. By this time, he fortunately had some experience in historic restoration.
Niketas’ first big renovation project was in Richmond — he and his team moved the Mosaic headquarters into an abandoned Pet Dairy plant, a process that Niketas found thrilling instead of tedious. Then in 2009, Niketas had a conversation with the owner of the 114 St. Philip St. building, Jamie Westendorff. Niketas was friends with Westendorff’s daughter. “She knew we did some creative stuff in Richmond and pushed me to talk to her dad. As soon as she said it, I knew the building she was talking about, and I couldn’t believe that through all those big real estate periods in Charleston that he hadn’t sold it.”
They agreed that Niketas would restore the dilapidated structure. “The most difficult part was the best use study — trying to figure out what to do with the building. I knew we could make a beautiful building, but I didn’t know at the time how to make it economically viable,” says Niketas. With the help of an abandoned building tax credit recently offered by the state of South Carolina, Niketas was able to make the numbers work — those accounting classes did pay off.
While Niketas agrees his accounting training helped, he says the College inspired him in other ways.
“I don’t know if being in a business program anywhere else in the country would have given me the same opportunity to be around these amazing buildings and architecture and seeing the value placed on your city,” says Niketas. “There’s something very special how intertwined the school is with its city and its setting. There’s an enormous value associated with having an opportunity to be at a school that makes you a real part of the city.”
Now The Westendorff houses a critically acclaimed restaurant with two floors of event and apartment space above the dining room. Niketas also took home the Historic Charleston Foundation’s Robert N.S. and Patti Foos Whitelaw Founders Award in recognition of the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the building. The Preservation Society of Charleston also bestowed upon him a Carolopolis Award for his sensitive restoration.
Niketas says it’s not about the awards though. Rather, it’s about bringing new life into a previously overlooked street corner and making a difference in the impression of the neighborhood.