By VICKI BROWN
Almost an icon of the town for 36 years, the Shoney’s Restaurant has closed and is now up for sale.
For 19 years, Tom Lewis became a friend and generous supporter of Colleton schools, events, and charities. He owned and operated the Shoney’s Restaurant. Although his rent payments for the building and land to the corporation was an astronomical $11,000 a month, he still gave free meals to people in need and helped the community. But then COVID-19 hit, and put an end to the local restaurant.
Lewis said he couldn’t continue absorbing the huge financial loss caused by the pandemic forcing the restaurant to close.
Known for the buffets, especially the Saturday morning breakfast buffets, Tom Lewis and the Shoney’s servers fed a lot of hungry people and hosted many meetings over the years.
Just after hiring a chef to change up the menu in early 2020, the COVID-19 virus began to spread across the United States. Lewis says the restaurant tried to stay afloat amid the pandemic panic by offering curbside service, but people missed the handy buffet and very few out-of-town travelers were willing to risk entering an unfamiliar establishment in a different town or state and lingering and eating there.
Another issue was that Shoney’s diners tend to be older or those with families. During the pandemic, Lewis said seniors were doing what they could to protect themselves and stayed at home as much as possible. Families were also concerned about the potential spread of the virus and were not eating out.
Lewis said he found himself in a dilemma.
He couldn’t continue paying employees while remaining closed, and it was less expensive not to open. But he still had to pay $11,000 a month for rent on a building that was rapidly growing older and needing major repairs. He tried to sell the franchise to a friend who owns another Shoney’s, but when the potential buyer saw the number of repairs needed (the floors, AC, and roof) and the location of the restaurant, he backed out of the sale. Lumber prices were tripling, as well as the cost of everything else, including food, and that part of town has been in decline for years with little hope of change.
“I couldn’t continue the way things were going,” said Lewis who drove from Goose Creek every day to manage the restaurant. “Between Covid, lawsuits and insurance, my commute, my wife who battled serious health problems, the cost of food and building repairs, I was in a constant state of worry, and I am 71 years old,” he said. “It just got to be too much. I would have been forced to raise prices significantly, and most people can’t afford that.”
Lewis was also concerned about the state of the southwest end of town, where the restaurant is located.
“That side of town has been ignored,” Lewis said. “The traffic flow is not good. The city seems to put money on other exit, and this side of town is terrible. It needs a grocery store and something else to bring people in off the Interstate into town.
“It would help all businesses and improve the appearance of Sniders Highway.”
Closing the restaurant has been a hard decision to make for Lewis. “I have made some of the best friends I have ever had in my life, and I have had some great employees. I hate losing the employees. They were wonderful and now have to find other jobs. I am going to miss them so much as well as all the friends I have made,” said Lewis. “This has been so tough. I didn’t want to close, but I sincerely appreciate the employees, the friendships I have made, and my former customers. This has been tough.”