By Lanier Laney
Beaufort has been described as being a very small town filled with fascinating people who found their way here by very circuitous routes. And Kit and Louis Bruce are the epitome of that observation.
Kit founded and runs the very successful Port Royal Farmers Market and Louis is a renowned painter of Lowcountry scenes. Together they also founded the Palmetto Brewery in Charleston. Here’s their story:
Pat Conroy’s latest novel “South of Broad” describes exactly the kind of world Kit grew up in her family’s 18th century home at 60 Meeting Street in Charleston. The graveyards and the Battery were her playground.
Louis’ Southern roots are more midstate (Beech Island, near Augusta) where his great, great, grandfather James Henry Hammond was governor of South Carolina and coined the famous term “Cotton is King” and turned the Citadel into a military academy. Louis, however, was raised outside of the South in Santa Barbara, Ca., and on Long Island because of his father’s work.
A chance meeting between Kit and Louis at the famed “Garden and Gun Club” Disco in 1979 through a mutual friend resulted in a marriage that just reached 30 happy years.
When they first married, Kit opened a windsurfing shop with a friend in Mt. Pleasant while Louis started working for her father in his paving and grading business. They had a friend who was a chemical engineer at Milliken who would come with his wife down to Charleston for windsurfing with them which included trips to Maui, Florida, and Hood River, Oregon. It was there in Hood River at Full Sail Brewery, a micro brewery and brew pub — a new concept at the time — that they hatched the idea of starting a brewery in Charleston, to be called The Palmetto Brewery. Says Louis, “I have a degree in biology, worked for a wine importer and knew something about marketing and distribution. My partner was a top notch chemical engineer that worked for Milliken building industrial processes. Kit knew our distributor, Pearlstine, personally. I knew Charleston was the right place at the right time.”
Kit and Louis did every job that needed to be done in the beginning. Says Kit, “I designed the Palmetto Brewery logo on the kitchen table, cut and paste, literally, no computer.” By this time, Louis had bought out the paving business from Kit’s father and he sold this to provide the start-up money for the brewery and brew pub.
They did tastings, rented the space for all sorts of occasions and while Louis promoted the beer, Kit worked the bottling line making boxes and six packs before it was automated. Their chemical engineering partner and fellow windsurfer built the infrastructure of the plant which today, with their combined efforts, has become one of the most successful regional beers in the U.S.
Success allowed Kit and Louis to indulge their love of travel and it was on a trip to Florence, Italy, that Louis was inspired by its beautiful light. He tried to buy a painting in a local gallery and after much run around from the store manager, the artist decided not to sell the painting. (It was his favorite). Louis decided at that moment he would come home and paint the scene himself. That was 500 paintings ago. Says Louis, “I enjoy the freedom, the challenge and the creativity. I’m obsessed, passionate.”
The amazing part is that up until that moment, he had never thought about painting or had any training in it. What started as a hobby — taking painting lessons while running the brewery — turned into a life-altering passion. He became a silent partner in the brewery business he had founded in order to pursue his love of painting.
It was on a chance visit to friends in Beaufort that Kit says they fell in love with the area and saw an uninhabited “shotgun shack” in Port Royal, that was in disrepair and decided to buy and renovate it, “much to the Realtor’s surprise,” says Kit.
Kit’s current occupation is as a grant writer for Friends of Caroline Hospice and founder and manager of the Port Royal farmers market.
Louis has an amazing second story space in the Saltus Building at 802 Bay St., with its original 18th century spiral staircase, that serves as his working studio and gallery for his iconic Lowcountry marsh landscapes that he paints on location around Beaufort. He describes his occupation now as “founder and co-owner of Palmetto Brewing Co, landscape painter and farmers market flunky.” (He’s the one putting up the tents at 6 a.m.) Adds Kit, “Louis is my boy. We do it all together. Whatever it takes.”
Kit’s farmers market has been going for seven years now and has gone from five farmers serving 50 people to 35 vendors serving up to 1,000 customers on Saturday mornings at the Ribaut Road location. Kit started it to find and support local farmers and make good locally grown whole food, including organic, available to her friends and neighbors. She now sends out a weekly e-blast to thousands of loyal customers.
However Kit and Louis Bruce found their way to Beaufort, it’s certainly become to Beaufort’s benefit that they did.
To get Kit’s weekly farmer’s market updates or to become involved as a seller, please go to portroyalfarmersmarket.com.
To see and find out more about Louis’ paintings, go to louisbruce.com.