Hundreds of thousands of meals are served at Grand Strand restaurants on any given day during a summer weekend, and each one of them could be the benchmark that will entice a tourist to return for another visit or to try someplace else on his next vacation.
Good food at a good price is very important, said Josh Carter of Evansville, Ind., who is in town for the first time on a vacation with his wife and two children.
They were walking by the Olympic Flame Restaurant on Ocean Boulevard early Wednesday afternoon and stopped in for a late lunch. At that time, about 2 p.m., the Carters were among just a handful of diners in the normally-busy restaurant that owner Jimmy Lambrino guessed served an average of 400 meals during breakfast and lunch during the summer.
“I’ve never counted,” Lambrino said.
Customer satisfaction is critical to Lambrino, whose family has owned the Olympic Flame for 38 years, and other restaurateurs. Everything from the greeting to the seating to the bill paying can influence a customer’s attitude about the meal.
But the food likely is the most important item, and for that Lambrino puts his trust in 47-year-old James Brown, the senior cook at the restaurant.
Brown’s work at the Olympic Flame is one of two full-time jobs he has, a pace he said he’s kept up for 20 years. At night, he runs a single-person kitchen at a bar on Socastee Boulevard.
He averages three hours to four hours of sleep a night, he said, adding that “My body doesn’t need much sleep.”
Each day starts at 7 a.m. for the breakfast shift at the Olympic Flame, where Brown is in charge of all egg preparation. His favorite thing to cook, he said, are omelets and of those offered at the restaurant he’s most fond of one with sausage, ham and bacon called The Flame.
Critical to good omelets, Brown said, are fresh eggs that are beaten until they are frothy.
He likes the pace of the breakfast shift better than that of other meals.
“It’s kind of a quick quick rush rush thing,” he said.
A native of Myrtle Beach, Brown began his cooking career in the ‘80s at a restaurant called the Lobster Trap. As he did at the Olympic Flame, he started work there as a server. He became fascinated watching the lady cook prepare the meals. She taught him the ropes and he stepped in front of his first grill.
He was immediately drawn to making beautiful-looking dishes, he said.
Although he took foodservice classes at Myrtle Beach High School, he said he never considered a career in cooking until he started doing it.
Married with six children, Brown said he was thinking of leaving Myrtle Beach when he met his wife, who was from Maryland, and the two settled down on the Grand Strand.
But he’s not the family cook, he said. He gets enough of that at his two jobs so he likes to eat out a lot.
“I love a great ambiance,” he said. “I love a great setting.”
The most important lesson he’s learned?
Because there’s so much competition to fill tourists’ stomachs on the Grand Strand, he said, “You’ve got to put out good food.”