Gari J. Rodriguez
Editor / Chief Chef
Gari considers himself largely a self-trained chef; his early education came from his grandmother’s farm in the rolling hills of upstate South Carolina. Years before the Farm-to-Table movement, it was here that Gari first learned the true flavor of the ingredients he would come to rely on when he opened American Grocery Restaurant in 2007.
A native of Spartanburg, S.C., Joe honed his passion for cooking while living in Los Angeles for 12 years where he studied cooking and eventually worked in Chef Govind Armstrong’s famed three-star restaurant, Table 8. After several years in New York and graduating with honors from the prestigious French Culinary Institute, Joe was ready to bring his seasonal cuisine back to upstate South Carolina.
Gari approach to food is based on fresh ingredients from a network of local farmers; his clean and simple approach allows the ingredients to speak for themselves. Joe utilizes a classic style in his American, seasonal cuisine, yet looks to global flavors as inspiration to enhance his progressive southern style.
Darlene Mann-Clarke, co-owner and sommelier at American Grocery Restaurant (AGR), brings creativity as well as extensive experience and knowledge to AGR’s beverage program. Since opening the restaurant in 2007 with her husband, Joe Clarke, Darlene has developed a top-caliber wine program and further honed her skills in the art of craft cocktails. Her knowledge of seasonal house infusions, house-made bitters and tinctures has resulted in an award-winning cocktail list for AGR. Additionally, with over 17 years in the industry, Darlene is a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and has completed both course levels through the International Sommelier Guild.
The Greenwood, S.C., native moved to Greenville, S.C., from New York in 2006, where she worked for top restaurants such as MEGU Midtown; there, working closely alongside the wine director, she helped steward a wine list with over 300 bottles, which won a Wine Spectator “Best Of” Award.
Prior to her time in New York, Darlene lived in the West Coast’s top food city – Los Angeles. Her time in California gave her access to wine-growing regions such as Napa, Santa Barbara and the Central Coast, where she cultivated friendships with small production winemakers. These relationships have made her a staunch advocate of “farmer-made” over “factory-made” wines. While Darlene moved to Los Angeles to pursue her passion for theatre and acting, her time spent at fine dining establishments such as Chadwick and Table 8 ignited her passion for the culinary world and wines.
A stunning wine and cocktail menu are not the only benefits Darlene has provided to AGR. In her free time, she loves crafting and home décor, which has resulted in the unique burlap curtains hanging near the restaurant’s kitchen doors. She also enjoys traveling; she and Joe create trips around must-try restaurant locales. Darlene holds a MFA in Theatre from Southern Methodist University and a BA in Theatre from the University of South Carolina. Her acting talent and passion remains today, and you’ll find Darlene performing for film and television roles when her schedule allows.
Manager / Head Mixologist
Born and raised on the north side of Chicago, Kirk Ingram has been a leading force behind the bar at American Grocery Restaurant for the past three years. After receiving an A.S. in Management from Hahnemann University in Philadelphia, Ingram attended the American Professional Bartending School in Schaumburg, Illinois before relocating to Greenville, South Carolina. Once in Greenville, he tended bar at The Owl and the Greenville–Spartanburg Airport before joining the American Grocery team in 2013.
When not in the restaurant, Ingram’s hobbies and interests are still wholly devoted to the passion and pursuit of food and drink. An avid gardener, he makes his own bitters, tinctures and tonics and has built a curing chamber from an old refrigerator to make fermented sausages. He pickles and preserves garden grown ingredients to use in his craft, and he is particularly excited about a Kaffir lime tree’s fruit that he has used to infuse cocktails. Ingram is a voracious reader, concentrating on the history of alcohol, specifically pre-Prohibition era America and how that time helped create organized crime (he is from Chicago after all!).
Currently living in Greer, South Carolina, Ingram cites many influences: his father who taught him not to choose to be common; Dr. John Lewis, his management professor at Hahnemann University who taught him that god is truly in the details; chef Thomas Keller who once wrote “it’s all about finesse” on a piece of receipt tape and handed it to Ingram at the airport bar; and cocktail greats David Wondrich, Jerry Thomas, Dale DeGroff and the team at Death and Co. who taught him that you can stir and shake a cocktail at the same time.
Ingram’s excitement for the industry is palpable and he loves everything from the cacophony of the kitchen during service to the deafening silence when the last customer leaves to the strange and bizarre conversations that happen at the bar to the bonds one forges with coworkers to the unexpected friendships that happen because true hospitality turns curious guests into regulars. An original through and through, Ingram follows the motto that “where there is no vision, the people perish" and he brings this enthusiasm, dedication, knowledge and drive to everything he does both inside and outside the restaurant.