Local restaurants rally to keep customers happy, healthy in uncertain times

By Terry Massey ˙ March 26, 2020

Hanser House in Pawleys Island is one of many local restaurants temporarily turning to takeout.

The Pawleys Island area is known for being one of the top culinary capitals on the Carolina coast. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s now one of the best places for food carryout and delivery.

Undeterred by the mandated closing of dine-in restaurants and bars, many local eateries are embracing the concepts of curbside orders and delivery service to meet the needs of their patrons.

Diners missing their go-to spots are getting to-go food to sustain them in this strange era of social distancing and self-quarantining. There’s nothing like a little comfort food in uneasy times.

“We have a loyal local following and they miss coming in for their usuals,” said Melody Steffen, who is helping owner/mother Theresa Brightwell run a skeleton-crew operation at Beach Burgers & BBQ.

“We considered shutting down but we just decided to cut back our hours. Our regular customers are the main reason we decided to stay open. People still have to eat and we want to fill that need.”

Scratching breakfast hours because it doesn’t travel well, Beach Burgers & BBQ is still cranking out lunch and dinner classics. But the social-distancing requirements have taken a toll on the personal touch.

“We still get to see our regulars when they come to pick up their food,” said Brightwell, who estimates her business is down 50 percent, “but I haven’t been able to give them a hug in a long time.”

R Way Pizza in Litchjfield Beach is offering takeout, delivery and daily specials.

Adapt and Serve

Jamie Sanderson covers the local restaurant scene on his website, GeorgetownFoodland.com. In the crazy days following the Coronoavirus closings, his focus has shifted from tableside to curbside.

“It’s more important now than ever that people support local,” said Sanderson, who has been shooting Facebook Live videos from area restaurants to highlight how they are coping with the crisis.

“For restaurants that had a strong clientele before, those people are coming out and supporting them. Others are having to rely on their online marketing skills, but they’re all battling that fear.”

With front-of-the-house staff out of work and kitchen crews cut back to the bare bones, local eateries are having to get a little creative to literally attract traffic to their front doors.

To help get the word out that dinner is still being served, restaurants are offering daily carryout specials, social-distance curbside service and contactless delivery for convenience and safety.

Amid the uncertainty, several restaurants have risen to the occasion. Uncle Mikey’s Pizza is offering to feed out-of-school children for free, and patrons have made unsolicited donations to the fund.

Owner Mike Zalloum also is offering take-and-make pizzas where customers order their toppings and put it together at home. Massey’s Pizza has take-and-bake specials prepared to order for carryout.

March 24 was the Great American Takeout, a promotion for patrons to show their appreciation to local restaurants for staying open despite the challenges of decreased business and dwindling supplies.

But for the ones that rely on the spring and summer tourism seasons for their survival, the Coronavirus delivered a 1-2 punch. After struggling through a slow offseason, the timing couldn’t be worse.

“I’ve been following national trends that say 40 percent of restaurants will not re-open,” Sanderson said. “If this drags into summer that number could be higher here because of the drop in tourism.”

A basket and trash can for customers to wear plastic gloves sits outside Get Carried Away Southern Takeout.

Survival of the Foodies

The Pawleys Island area has much more than pizza and fast-food joints. While the new market favors those already catering to carryout and delivery, fine-dining establishments face a bigger challenge.

“They’re not acclimated to curbside and delivery like the mid-range menu types,” Sanderson said. “It’s a harder sell for high-end product when people are gravitating to something quick and easy.”

Operations like Get Carried Away Southern Takeout is ahead of the curve, offering premade pans of Lowcountry classics like Shrimp and Grits and Tomato Pie that patrons can pop in the oven at home.

“People aren’t coming in and picking up one or two things for dinner like they normally do,” said Get Carried Away manager Betty Burdette. “They’re getting four or five dinners to last them awhile.”

To help alleviate fears, Get Carried Away placed a box of plastic gloves at the entrance with a sign asking patrons to put on a pair before entering. It’s another layer of protection and confidence.

“It’s for the safety of our customers and employees,” Burdette said. “For the most part people have been receptive and cooperative with it. I think everyone understands that things have changed.”

Indeed, the Coronavirus has thrown a curveball to us all, but particularly the restaurant industry. For the foreseeable future, it’s all about staying alive until the pandemic is under control.

“It’s going to be hard for restaurants that have to close for a while,” Sanderson said. “Iff they have to stay shut down for a long time, I don’t see how they’re going to be able to open back up.”

But for the time being, local restaurants are trying to overcome concerns of their own survival to focus on the survival of their patrons. Nothing offers hope like a hot meal made with love.

“Money!” laughed Brightwell when asked her main motivation for staying open in these tough times. “But our customers are what keeps us going. I can’t wait till this is over so I can give them a big hug.”