It was business as usual Thursday at Cagney’s as some diners were surprised to hear that the locally-owned restaurant, which has been along the Grand Strand more than 30 years, is closing this fall.
Cagney’s, located at 9911 U.S.17, in the area known as Restaurant Row, has been offering its steaks and prime ribs to tourists and locals since it opened in May 1976.
After 36 years in the area, the restaurant will close Oct.20 as its lease is coming to an end, said Dino Thompson, one of Cagney’s owners.
“Our lease is coming to an end and due to the funky economy, negotiating more years is not an option,” Thompson stated in a letter to the Cagney’s family about the closure. “So the bummed-out bottom line is...we’re going to have to call it a day. We’ve had a beautiful run.”
For customers Terry and Brady Mink, the news was heartbreaking. The two were among several other diners who trickled in from the heavy rain to enjoy an early dinner shortly after the restaurant opened around 4:15 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s heartbreaking when you see locals in the community and they can’t for whatever reason keep it going,” said Terry Mink, who likes the atmosphere at Cagney’s. The couple from Kernersville, N.C., have visited the restaurant at least twice before. Brady Mink said the steak and prime rib are what brings him back. But the Minks probably won’t be visiting the area again before Cagney’s closes in October.
Elaine and Ralph Schroder have always driven by the restaurant when they finally decided to go Thursday, on Ralph Schroder’s birthday.
“I had a cousin that visited last year and said it was really nice,” Elaine Schroder said. The couple, who are from North Litchfield, ordered the steak special, which included a twice-baked potato and vegetables. Even though the restaurant wasn’t as upscale as Elaine Schroder thought it would be, Ralph Schroder said it was good.
Since it opened, Cagney’s has had three million diners, according to the restaurant’s website. Thompson and Dino Drosas, lifelong friends, own the restaurant, which has some furnishings, including a wooded arch, from the Ocean Forest Hotel that was demolished in September 1974.
Throughout the restaurant are lots of antiques, such as coffee urns, old gas pumps and chandeliers. There’s also a private dining room named the Ocean Forest room.
The restaurant is decorated with large photographs of such screen stars as Clark Gable and James Cagney, though the restaurant is not named after Cagney. Thompson and Drosas wanted a name that “jived” with the architectural antiques and memorabilia they incorporated throughout the restaurant, according to the website.
Cagney’s is the latest longstanding business coming to an end in the Myrtle Beach area. Another, the historic Chesterfield Inn in Myrtle Beach, was torn down on Wednesday to make way for a miniature golf course and restaurant. The owners said it wasn’t economical to renovate and update the inn, which was on the National Register of Historic Places, having been in the area for more than 66 years.
For Thompson, the decision to close Cagney’s was made after he and Drosas explored everything they could do, Thompson said Thursday.
“It’s a sad time for us and our staff,” said Thompson, who said eight people in the kitchen have worked at the restaurant since they were 15 or 16 years old.
There are 30 employees at the restaurant, and they were told last Friday about it closing.
Each staff person was talked to individually about the restaurant’s closure as Thompson hopes they can be placed somewhere else.
A few are going to another restaurant Thompson and Drosas own - Flamingo Grill, located at 71st Ave. N. and Kings Highway - though Thompson said he wishes they could all go. Thompson and Drosas opened the Flamingo Grill in 1986.
Handy Willard, who started working at Cagney’s six months after it opened, isn’t sure where he will go after the restaurant closes, but plans to stay until the end.
For Willard, like for most of the employees, the news was surprising. Many of the employees were too emotional Thursday to talk about it.
“Everyone on the line has been here over 30 years,” said Willard, who is one of the head cooks at Cagney’s, and also a cook at the Academy for Technology and Academics.
“We have fun,” he said as he pointed to a television and radio in the kitchen. “We have worn out two or three radios. We dance, play and work. Everybody does their job.”
Willard got a job at Cagney’s 35 years ago when a friend asked him if he wanted to wash pots at the restaurant.
Willard, who used to ride the school bus by the restaurant, said he thought it was a church.
He walked into the kitchen that day and has been there every since.
“I started out of high school,” said Willard, who went to North Myrtle Beach High School. “I was shocked to hear the news. I never thought it would happen to me, but I got to move on. It was pretty good here. I had a good run.”
Contact JANELLE FROST at 443-2404.