Faces of hospitality: Leslie Rohland

Fast Talking and Even Faster Moving … Get outta her way!

By Lucy Rosen

A charming Southern restaurant. A trendy smoothie bar. An artisanal coffee company, and a personal-chef catering service. What do they all have in common? One of Bluffton’s most inspiring entrepreneurs, Leslie Rohland.

Rohland, a self-proclaimed “foodie,” is the owner and founder of The Cottage Cafe, Bakery, and Tea Room; The Juice Hive; May River Coffee Roasters; and SideCar Catering. While May River Coffee and SideCar are Rohland’s newest ventures, The Cottage and The Juice Hive have grown a loyal fanbase of locals and tourists alike over the years. The restaurants have won more than 40 awards, including Good Food Awards, HH Reader’s Choice Awards, and Best of Bluffton Awards. In 2020, South Magazine named The Cottage a “must destination” spot while Restaurant Guru bestowed Best Vegetarian Restaurant Award to The Juice Hive.

Just like Rohland has a sense for winning recipes – whether it be the Pimento Shrimp and Grits at The Cottage, the Shrimp Tango Buddha Bowl at The Juice Hive, or the Blueberry Cream coffee from May River – her knack for staying ahead of culinary trends is primarily based on intuition.

“Mostly staying ahead of the curve and the trends is me listening to my own body and tastebuds,” Rohland said. “In looking at the demographic of Bluffton. I think a Southern restaurant will always have a home, and a juice bar will always be welcome. Feeding the body in a natural way, along with other good practices mentally and spiritually, allows for one to live a good life.”

Her secret to “living a good life” doesn’t just lie in cooking for her customers. Rohland is an avid philanthropist, almost never saying no when a nonprofit asks for a donation. She is on the board of the Bluffton Merchants Association, The Carson Cottage and Bluffton Village. She is also the founder of the Chocolate Coffee Fest, a winter street market that invites hundreds of local coffee roasters, bakers, and chocolate lovers to Calhoun Street every year. The inaugural event drew close to 1,500 people in 2018 and even more in 2019. Rohland hopes to bring the event back this year.

Rohland worked at The Jazz Corner, a premiere jazz supper club on Hilton Head Island, from 1999 to 2008 when she decided to break into the Lowcountry food scene herself.

“I was drawn to Southern cuisine because the [restaurant] epitomizes that, as does Calhoun Street,” Rohland said. “And I also loved the idea that it was in Bluffton, as I felt Hilton Head was built up and there was a lack of good eateries in Bluffton at the time.”

The Cottage, a favorite Bluffton breakfast, lunch, and brunch spot with a cozy, old-world atmosphere, was born out of several ideas. Rohland first wanted to open a bakery, then a cafe, then decided to turn the business into a combination of those. The Cottage also began serving the largest selection of tea in the South – with over 200 varieties – after Rohland fell in love with the idea of hosting afternoon tea on the restaurant’s sunny patio.

The Juice Hive and May River Coffee Roasters came from Rohland’s cravings for fresh, unique finds, and possibly her need to continue creating. When she isn’t in the kitchen, Rohland can be found in her studio, painting, drawing, and creating mosaic pieces of art. She treats food much the same way.

The Juice Hive specializes in cold-pressed juices and fresh, raw foods, something that Rohland says is difficult to make well, but she was happy to offer local restaurant-goers a healthier alternative. May River Coffee Roasters, on the other hand, was created to fill a personal gap in Rohland’s life: the need for a good cup of coffee.

“I consider myself a little bit of a coffee snob, and I was buying coffee but was always discontent with what the product was,” Rohland said. “If I ordered a dark roast, it never really came as a dark roast. Same thing with medium. I was always fascinated with the process of coffee roasting, and after putting myself through coffee school, I realized that it’s very much a culinary tradition.”

While the Covid pandemic forced some restaurant owners to close their doors permanently, Rohland saw an opportunity to open her fourth business. People were unable to eat at restaurants for most of last year, so Rohland started SideCar Catering as a way to bring restaurant-quality meals to them.

Rohland travels to her SideCar clients’ houses to prepare meals in their home kitchens. She enjoys the variety and creativity that the catering business has brought to her life, as she might be prepping food for a birthday party one night then serving a seven-course dinner for two the next.

Rohland doesn’t plan to stop at just four businesses. She says she has several more ideas in the works – at least one of which will be revealed in the next year.

Leslie Rohland’s 3 tips for aspiring restaurateurs

1. Know the business. “It will behoove you, as the restaurant owner, to know inside and out how a restaurant runs. This means that you need to work every position, more than one shift. You need to be the dishwasher, the hostess, the chef, the runner, the server, the cleaning crew, the manager, and the customer. You must understand the ordering process, the hiring process, the accounting process, the tax laws, the legal repercussions, logistical strategy, crisis management, human resources, and the day-to-day protocol. And if you fail, you will sleep well at night knowing that you did everything in your power to really understand this potentially difficult, stressful, repetitive business.”

2. Be patient. “Growth takes time. This is a guarantee, just like death and taxes. Give it a minimum of five years.” 

3. Choose your staff wisely. “Invest in your business by hiring the right people. A restaurant is only as good as its staff (and its chef), so be strategic during the hiring process.”

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