|Awendaw diner serves up memories of past |
BY MICHAEL GARTLAND
Of The Post and Courier Staff
AWENDAW--The lunch rush has just begun. Plates of steaming oysters, shrimp and fried fish float overhead as a waitress holds them high and calls out the orders.
"Who got scallops? Who got fried shrimp?" she entreats, then places the dishes down.
This is SeeWee Restaurant, out at the edge of Charleston County. Since the early 1990s, it has been an institution for locals and travelers looking for home cooking that is so comforting sleep may be the only appropriate dessert.
The SeeWee Restaurant has been a staple in the lives of Awendaw residents for more than 10 years.
Change has come to the area, though, and some fear the restaurant will change, too, that the scuffed, aged wood-plank floors will be straightened, that the muted, red seashell-patterned tablecloths and matching curtains will be replaced with finer stuff.
Kurt Penninger, 41, the manager, says that's not likely. Altering anything about the restaurant is not part of his future plans.
"By no means are we trying to gear our business in any way," he says. "We serve everybody."
SeeWee's denizens still say the locally caught seafood is some of the best around, but they acknowledge, for better or worse, this out-of-the-way gem has been discovered. In October, Southern Living magazine featured it as one of the best roadside diners in the Lowcountry, and lately, more and more Lexuses and BMWs can be found in the dirt parking lot.
"When we first moved to South Carolina, we lived in Huger, and this was really the only restaurant around then," says Ann Free, a native of California who eats at SeeWee about once a week with her family. "There's more of a variety of people now, but it's still got the local feel."
That isn't hard to miss.
Before being converted to a restaurant in 1993, the building was used briefly as a crafts shop and before that as a general store, which served the lightly populated area since the 1920s. The building thread, smoked herring and nails. Penninger was just a boy then. His parents bought the store from the original owners in the 1950s, and today his mother still owns it.
"Back then, people didn't run to Mount Pleasant for a gallon of milk," he says. "We used to have people come here with a mule and wagon."
To some, that past is SeeWee's novelty. To others, that history is so apparent it contributes to the restaurant's well-worn atmosphere.
"I lived here twenty years ago, and there were plenty of places like this," says Bruce Babb, a Fairfax, Va., resident, who's waiting on some fish and fried oysters.
The problem with maintaining places like it, says Babb, originally from Barnwell, is young people typically leave rural areas when they come of age.
"The parents that run the place get old, and the kids don't want to run the place. ... Small towns don't hold on to young people. They didn't hold on to me."
Mary Rancourt, Penninger mother, says that Kurt has two sons and that the restaurant will stay in the family.
"We plan to keep it in business," says Rancourt.
Awendaw probably won't be as small a town in two decades.
Francis Marion National Forest protects it from being overdeveloped, but Andy Free, Ann's husband, notes the developments along S.C. Highway 41 weren't there 10 years ago and are sure to continue.
"There'll be a stop light; there'll be a gas station," says Free, pointing toward the road where there are none now. "This place will be here, too, as long as a storm doesn't take it."
Michael Gartland covers East Cooper. Contact him at 937-5902 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Seewee Restaurant is open 7 days a week
Saturday Breakfast 8:00am
Sunday - Lunch
Lunch and Dinner - 11:00am to 9:00pm.
Specializing in Good Home Cooking And Seafood
Located at 4808 Highway 17 N
Awendaw, South Carolina 29429 (11 miles north of Mt. Pleasant, SC)
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