Last week, Dana Berlin Strange, owner of local favorite Jestine’s Kitchen (251 Meeting St.), announced the restaurant’s permanent closure via Facebook.
Dana opened the southern food restaurant on February 6, 1996, naming it after her lifelong house-keeper and her caretaker, Jestine Matthews.
Jestine was born in the Lowcountry in 1885 to a Native American mother and a father who was the son of a freed slave. While she doesn’t recollect exactly where she was born, she claims her first memories of her childhood home were on Rosebank Plantation on Wadmalaw Island.
In the early 1900s, Jestine moved to Charleston and began working as a housekeeper. In 1928, she was hired by Aleck Berlin and his wife, who were expecting a child – Shera Lee Berlin. Jestine quickly befriended the small family, and went on to play a major role in Dana’s life, who was Shera Lee’s only child.
Dana opened Jestine’s Kitchen to honor her beloved caretaker and friend, wanting to share Jestine’s style of home cooked meals and the warm atmosphere she provided the family throughout the years. She gathered friends and members of Jestine’s family to create the menu and get their approval.
Almost two years after the restaurant’s opening, Jestine died on Dec. 18, 1997 at the age of 112. While she is greatly missed, her legacy has lived on through Dana, Jestine’s Kitchen, the restaurant staff + the community that gathers daily to converse and dine.
On its closing day, many came to celebrate the legacy that the restaurant has made in Charleston, including Dana’s niece Helen and both local and traveling regulars. People came to celebrate, reminiscence + order their favorite dishes one last time.
While Dana would have hoped for a longer run, she took pride in the fact that Jestine’s was one of the longest standing culinary staples in Charleston. With the quick onset of the recent pandemic, the restaurant was unable to stay afloat despite a valiant effort from Dana and her team, who she praised in her farewell letter.
Dana and her staff always took good care of folks whether they were visitors or locals, whether they needed a meal, a smile, or a story about Jestine, and whether or not they were paying customers. Dana and the managers often sent people who were down on their luck out the door with a hearty meal on the house. Their heart was to serve people well and celebrate Jestine’s legacy, which they accomplished in admirably serving the Lowcountry for over two decades.
You can read Dana’s bittersweet farewell letter here.