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Transitions: Island Cafe and Deli ends 26-year run
By Jason Lesley
A Pawleys Island landmark has become a memory with the closing last week of Island Cafe and Deli.
Many of the restaurant’s loyal customers came by on Thursday for a last lunch with Patsy, Smicky and Anne Hardee and to say good-bye to the servers and staff.
Anne Hardee and her business partner at Bistro 217 Adam Kirby will reopen the restaurant after it’s remodeled.
Charlie Cameron said he ate lunch at Island Cafe and Deli for 26 years. He was a close friend of the late Russell Hardee, who opened the place in 1988 with partner George Marshall. Diners packed Island Cafe and Deli for its $9.95 lobster dinners. Russell Hardee said he sold 500 lobsters a night in his heyday. When the restaurant’s 160 seats overflowed, the former landlord let the restaurant owners use an empty business in back — it’s All Fired Up pottery now — for overflow. They called it “Little Egypt.” The restaurant’s bar was so popular, taxis lined up outside to take patrons home after they stayed late to hear the band.
When Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, Hardee put up a sign that said “Free Food” and began cooking everything in the freezer. “People came in and ate free as long as there was something in the freezer,” Patsy Hardee said.
Russell Hardee began working in restaurants when he was 14, his mother said. He worked at 82 Queen in Charleston while he attended Johnson & Wales culinary school. Cameron said he was childhood friends with Russell and his brother Mike. All three boys would ski barefooted behind Smicky Hardee’s boat near Sandy Island. “It’s been a fun place, a family place,” Cameron said. “We are all like family. The same people are here every day.” Cameron is depicted on a mural on the north side of the restaurant. He’s the man wearing a tie.
Russell Hardee returned to Pawleys Island when he was just 21 and bought Lowcountry Delicatessen, a sandwich shop. He changed the name to Island Cafe and Deli and put his cooking skills to work, often until midnight. He bought his partner out after five years and eventually turned the cooking over to Darrell “Big D” Wragg and the rest of the kitchen staff – but spent a lot of time hunting the best prices on lobsters and shrimp so he could keep menu prices down.
He died at age 47 last October. “It was sad losing Russell the way we did,” Cameron said, “as young as he was.” He said it might be time for a makeover. “It could be a good move to update everything,” he said. “They’ll be down for a month.”