The Wright Stuff: Dishing Up Hospitality

From historic architecture and cobblestone streets to downhome, Southern food, Michael Higgins, and Tod Whitaker, owners of Wright Square Bistro decided to take a bite out of the Hostess City.

L-R: Tod Whitaker with Gertrude (Stepaside There Is No There There) and Michael Higgins with Clark (GCHS Stepaside Brynlea Chatham Arch). Clark is Gertie’s sire.

Their uniquely Southern menu triumphs by teaming with local businesses like Wicked Cakes, Donna’s Delicious Delites, Auspiciuous Bakery, Carlstedt’s Flowers, Davis Produce and Rive Gauche Wines.

Boutique wines meet low riding pups as the owners’ champion Pembroke Welsh corgis are meal namesakes, Higgins having raised over 20 dogs in his lifetime.

After years of working for others, Higgins and his partner Tod Whitaker decided they wanted to work for themselves. Whitaker had been in hospitality for some 30 odd years but Higgins had been working in marketing, product development and real estate before deciding to pivot toward hospitality. The “opportunity became available” and what has transpired since then is nothing short of delightful.

Higgins commuted between Savannah and Indianapolis before one fateful winter when he decided to put the cold and snow behind him for good. His car, as it turned out, “turned into a big ice cube” and a permanent move to Savannah became imminent.

Photo / D. Paul Graham

The choice to create a bistro, among other things, is no happenstance decision though.

“I remember being in Paris. And getting horribly lost and finding this little hole in the wall restaurant that you went in that was probably eight tables,” said Higgins. He described the business as a tight-knit affair with an undeniable “family oriented, warm environment where you can be comfortable.” To top it off, this charming establishment had “simple but just amazing food.” Whitaker harkens back to some of his favorite family-oriented bistros in New York City, one being Chez Napoleon, and thus, a little bit of Wright Square Bistro was born.

But the pair wanted to set themselves apart, and during a 14 hour drive from Houston to Savannah, one of their beloved pawed companions who was “being squirrelly” became that catalyst. The lightbulb went off, and both Higgins and Whitaker exclaimed, “That’s it. It’s the dogs,” and the naming of the dishes after their Corgis was written into lore.

Gertie (Stepaside There Is No There There) went Best of Winners and Best of Opposite Sex for her third championship major! Her dad, Clark (GCHS Stepaside Brynlea Chatham Arch) was Select Dog moving him closer the being a Gold Grand Champion.

Their roast beef sandwich is named after Clark because “he’s the beefy guy.” The Gertrude is a chicken sandwich named as such because Gertrude can be “a little bit of a chicken.” The Fredo (their take on a grilled cheese) is because, as you may have guessed, Fredo was “cheesy.” The house salad is a Locket, who never lost the baby weight, and grand matriarch Beatrix is the bleu cheese wedge for how she wedged herself into people’s hearts. The list goes on.

The Bistro is also dedicated to being eco-friendly, with three compost bins at a different location for trimmings and eggshells, and, in conjunction with re:Purpose Savannah and a local arist, the tables were created from second cut Georgia pine rafters from a 120-year-old house in Coffee Bluff that a tree came down on during a hurricane.

The Bistro cans their own food, and even has a friendly ghost, Irish indentured servant Alice Riley (and her husband) whom Whitaker wishes well to each morning and night. Alice likes to “mess” with new equipment the owners are bringing in, according to Whitaker. Six weeks after opening, the oven dial went missing. Before that, the ice scoop up and disappeared before the painters were even in to redo the space. The following week, after a trip to Sam’s Club, Higgins and Whitaker came back to melted ice in the brand new freezer, a 220 volt work station (that one would literally have to pull apart the area around to get the plug out) completely unplugged.

Toys from their childhood: Tonka trucks and a prized possession – one of Higgins’ great grandmothers dolls – adorn the perfectly appointed space, with splashes of colors from Edward Silva paintings. There’s even a tomato seedling which sprouted from a crack in the sidewalk. “The room looks and feels amazing – Southern feel with a little European ambiance,” said Whitaker.

Both Higgins and Whitaker are insistent upon creating an inclusive, welcoming environment. “It’s like throwing a dinner party in your house everyday,” said Whitaker. “We’re inviting people into our home.” When making a dish, Higgins and Whitaker tell their team, “make sure it’s something you would serve to a guest in your home.”

You can’t beat the fan favorite meatloaf, or fresh flowers waiting for you on your table. “Why cook when you can join us?” We’ll be “Wright” there.

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