Developer Berry Cos. Pivots to Senior Housing with $100M Project Involving ‘BBQ Doctor’

Developer The Berry Companies hopes older adults are hungry for a new $100 million senior housing project geared toward active lifestyles it’s serving up in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

The community, The Retreat at Carolina Park, is planned to have 130 cottages for sale, 234 active adult apartments for rent, 12 attached independent living rental cottages and 92 units of assisted living and memory care, all on a 45-acre campus. Included in the project are a $4 million amenity center, fitness facility with daily programming, pickleball and bocce ball courts, a wellness garden, waterfront amphitheater, demonstration kitchen, clubhouse and pool.

Ameris Bank is financing the community’s apartment component, while IberiaBank is financing the assisted living and memory care portion of the project. Rates will likely start at around $1,700 for the active adult rental units, with prices around the high-$300,000s or low-$400,000s for the for-sale cottages.

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Slated to manage the senior living portion of the community is Suwanee, Georgia-based Senior Solutions Management Group (SSMG), almost certainly the only senior living provider in the U.S. with a founder — Chris Sides — who doubles as a “BBQ doctor.”

The new community marks the first senior housing development from The Berry Companies, a boutique multifamily developer based in Charleston, South Carolina. The basic premise is to give prospective residents the choice to buy into a continuum of care without having to pay a large entrance fee or for services they don’t want, according to The Berry Companies Principal Tony Berry.

“We’re trying to offer a true continuum of care [from] active adult all the way to memory care,” Berry told Senior Housing News. “On the active adult side we’re hoping to see the average age … starting with a six.”

About a year ago, the company sold all of its owned multifamily properties, with the intention of rebuilding its portfolio, he added.

Although The Berry Companies does not have any other senior housing projects close to breaking ground, senior housing will likely play a larger role in the company’s portfolio moving forward, and in a similar blended fashion as the community in South Carolina. The company is currently looking at additional opportunities in markets that include Wilmington and Charlotte, North Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia.

“The other projects we’re looking at … we will only move forward if there is enough land where we can integrate some active adult detached, active adult attached, assisted living and memory care,” Berry said.

The Doctor is in

Managing the community is SSMG, which owns and/or operates 23 communities throughout Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina. What initially attracted SSMG to the project was the fact that it was “something different,” according to founder Sides. The company also seeks to grow its presence in South Carolina.

“When you throw in 131 single-family homes, independent apartments and with such scale for this type of project, it really just seems like there is not another one of those in Mount Pleasant,” Sides told SHN.

Outside of the company’s senior living management, SSMG has also made a name for itself as a purveyor of North Carolina-style barbecue. And Sides — who spent 13 years as a professional chef — has a dual role as the company’s “BBQ Doctor.”

The idea first came to fruition during the height of the Great Recession in 2008, when SSMG had just eight communities.

“We’re in a lot of tertiary markets, and some of those places, particularly in Tennessee, were hard hit because manufacturing took a really big hit,” Sides said. “What we would do were basically potluck dinners: we would provide the meat, we would invite the families, they would bring a dish … and that’s how it got started.”

During the recession, the barbecue events helped drive morale, and they were also a way to get everybody in the community together, he added.

“Back in those days — in ‘08, ‘09 and ‘10 — in my opinion, it saved us,” Sides said. “Our buildings stayed relatively well-occupied, our people stayed happy.”

Today, the barbecue feasts are mostly on hold due to Covid-19. The company is hosting some scaled-down barbecue meals for residents in the meantime, and doling out free to-go barbecue meals to first responders and health care professionals.

But Sides is ready to fire up the smoker when the Covid-19 pandemic wraps up, and the plan is to “most definitely” hold more BBQ Doctor events at The Retreat at Carolina Park once the community is open for business, he added.

“The analogy that I’ve come up with is … the BBQ Doctor is just that old tool that sits on the shelf,” Sides said. “It’s there when you need it, and it works every time.”

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