Savannah’s famed The Olde Pink House offers a dining experience 250 years in the making
Bricks that bled, staining the once-white house pink. A fire that charred the walls of its upper-story ballroom. The throws of Yellow Fever in the 19th century and the COVID-19 pandemic this past year, both of which shuttered doors across the city.
One simply has to ask, how has this blush-colored gem from Savannah’s antiquity withstood the trials of time?
“They don’t build them like they used to,” jokes Craig Jeffress, general manager of The Olde Pink House. “This home has incredible bones.” Throughout the course of its 250-year history, The Olde Pink House has changed hands many times.
James Habersham Jr., the pioneering merchant and wealthy planter, built the original residence in 1771 on a land allotment granted by the Crown of England. In 1811, a decade after his passing, Habersham’s halls became home to the vaults of Planters’ Bank, the first bank in Georgia. Later still, in 1864, the house became a military generals’ headquarters for Union troops following Maj. Gen.William Tecumseh Sherman’s Civil War Siege of Savannah
While this timeline can be found on the back of restaurant menus, there’s even more history within the dishes themselves. Every meal and every glass of wine served honors the cultural collisions that occurred during our port city’s checkered past: overlooked immigrants, wayward travelers, enslaved peoples brought here against their will.
“We’re a relationship business. The relationship we have with our amazing staff, the relationship we have with each and every guest, and the relationship that we have with our purveyors are the key to stewarding this privilege we’ve been given.”Craig Jeffress, general manager of The Olde Pink House
“The very story we tell through our food is one of survival,” Jeffress says. “It’s a way of honoring all of those hardworking people who endured, so that we can be here [today].”
Pickled watermelon rinds, a tradition rooted in preserving the food you can’t afford to waste, now garnish blackened oysters. Collard greens, the thick, leafy vegetation found and perfected by those who had no alternatives, feature pork scraps to punch up the flavor. West African spices, an Asian-inspired seafood fry and Madeira wine from the Portuguese islands have all found their way onto The Olde Pink House menu, too.
“I think it’s important that we represent this region with our food,” Jeffress says, “but, in doing so, we have to also represent cultures from around the globe.” That’s a tradition The Olde Pink House remains committed to year after year, as they add to their growing list of global vendors.
We go out to Guadalajara, Mexico, for our tequila, and we see the love that goes into creating it,” Jeffress says. “We go to Kentucky for our bourbon, America’s original spirit. We go out to the cattle ranch. We go on the fishing boat. The coffee we source comes solely from a specific lot, on a specific farm, in Nicaragua.”
That care and attention to every last detail doesn’t stop with the cuisine, either. Revived, hand-plucked, period pieces curated by the owner herself, Donna Moeckel, fill the walls of The Olde Pink House with the pathos of the South. Ivy curls around the Palladian portico, crystal chandeliers shimmer in every room and an extensive oil-painting collection tells the story of Savannah through centurial seaside vignettes and portraits of the city’s esteemed citizens.
A night at The Olde Pink House isn’t simply a fancy meal, it’s an experience that sends diners swirling through history, from the moment they step through the front entrance to the time they sign the check and box up their desserts.
“We make it a point to never let the 250 years of history seem average or pedestrian to us,” Jeffress says. “Every meal, every event is special.” The staff, who shoulder the work seven days a week to keep The Olde Pink House standing, are the ones Jeffress credits with the success of the famed restaurant.
“We didn’t ask for the fire [in December 2018], we didn’t ask for the pandemic, but here they are,” Jeffress says. “So, the question we lead with, always, is, ‘What’s the best thing we can do for everyone involved?’” The team’s response, no matter the crisis, remains the same: “We pull together and take care of one another.”
“We’re a relationship business,” Jeffress says. “The relationship we have with our amazing staff, the relationship we have with each and every guest, and the relationship that we have with our purveyors are the key to stewarding this privilege we’ve been given.”