Nichole Livengood can remember when The Cafe at Williams Hardware was actually Williams Hardware and when Sidewall Pizza Company served as the Bryant and Lell Tire Center. Nowadays, she writes about the restaurants that have taken up residence in those buildings on her food blog, GapCreekGourmet.com.
To be sure, restaurants are popping up all over Travelers Rest, SC, and its revitalized downtown. Nichole explains that this couldn’t have happened just a few years ago.
“But the trail has opened up opportunities,” she adds.
Since the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail debuted in 2009, Nichole has watched her hometown transform right in front of her, from a sleepy town with dilapidated old shops to an awakening Main Street with new life, including new restaurants.
A creperie. A pizza place. A hotdog joint. An ice cream shop. A wine bar. A bistro. A moonshine distillery. A sushi spot. An American grill or two. A smoothie bar. They’ve all put a stake in the ground in Travelers Rest.
But none of them were here when Nichole was a kid.
She grew up in Travelers Rest and graduated from Travelers Rest High School and the Fine Arts Center, Greenville, where she studied under George Singleton. She attended Winthrop University and graduated with an English degree with an emphasis on creative writing.
Even today, Nichole describes herself as a “serial careerist”, because she’s had a lot of jobs since finishing school, including advertising and human resources. She even studied massage therapy at one point.
But she eventually gravitated to freelance writing. She started her freelance writing career in 2008 — just one year before the trail opened. Initially, she wrote articles for local publications like Verve, Greenville Journal, TOWN Magazine, and many others.
“It was a very cool moment when I could take my parents into Barnes & Noble and show them my byline in a magazine,” Nichole remembers. “For a creative writing kid who loved hanging out in bookstores? That was a proud moment.”
Now, her love of writing and food have merged and brought her to begin GapCreekGourmet.com, a blog that covers, for the most part, the food and restaurant scene in the Greenville area, as well as other cities throughout South Carolina and beyond.
“I’m not really a reviewer though,” Nichole emphasizes. “I don’t like to trash restaurants. I understand what it takes to make one. Who wants to be responsible for sinking that ship? Instead, I want them to float. To thrive. I write about amazing experiences and amazing people and about the things I love.”
Most of us can relive our favorite memories from childhood, smells and textures and experiences that take us back to another time, when our passions were beginning. Nichole is no different.
“I think my best food memories from when I was a kid were at my Mama Plumblee’s house. We’d show up, and she’d be frying up chicken that she’d put on a plate covered in paper towels, so they’d soak up the grease. She made amazing cornbread and cakes. And these biscuits that would just fit the palm of my hand. On Sundays, she’d fry the hell out of fatback and leave it on a plate on the stove for us all to pick at,” Nichole says.
“I don’t remember much about growing up. Not really. But, I remember every single detail of her kitchen.”
Therein lie the beginnings of a “food experience blogger,” in Nichole’s words. And a true lover of food.
In addition to keeping her food blog and running her own PR firm — most of her clients are restaurant owners, mind you — Nichole also hosts Small Plate Crawls across the Carolinas, with the hopes that others can share in her joy of good food at local restaurants.
In fact, Nichole and her business partner Laura Huff of CarolinaEpicurian.com are organizing the Greenville Small Plate Crawl that’s coming up again this year in late March. The event lets diners taste and try new foods at restaurants from around the Upstate, celebrating the booming food scene of Travelers Rest right along with Greenville’s.
“Restaurants are a complete sensory experience for me. It’s how it makes me feel when I walk in, how the food tastes, what the textures are like. It’s in the details. They are a giant work of art produced by a lot of hands and an incredible amount of creativity and effort,” Nichole says, with the satisfaction of someone who loves her job. “An entire community makes a restaurant: chef, cooks, hostess, servers, dishwashers, designers. It just amazes me.”
Writer: Melinda Long
Editor: Celeste Hawkins
Photography: Used with permission from Nichole Livengood