Second in a series about the faces behind beloved eateries
You have to nurse grits. Spend time with it. Show it that your love runs deep. And stir, stir, stir.
Grits require that sort of dedication. All good food, the best kind, needs a little tenderness.
Lamar Iszard, 67, is a man that knows about these kinds of things. Come July 15, he will celebrate 44 years in the restaurant industry.
The owner of Lamar’s Fish & Chips has built his breakfast and lunch kingdom on the simple premise of giving whatever you do all you’ve got.
“If I don’t know what I’m doing by now, I will never know,” Iszard said while taking a break from stirring a giant pot of smooth, buttery grits. “I’ve been in this business for a long time. So, I should know something.”
Don’t let his humility hoodwink you.
This man knows plenty. You already know he is the purveyor of the aforementioned creamy grits. Yet, there is more in this building at 205 N. Merriman Road, which seats 50 customers comfortably.
Fried flounder. Here! Fried spots. Here! Fried shrimp. Here!
Yes, the usual suspects, including hot, buttered toast and eggs the way you like them, are present too, along with daily lunch specials, including baked turkey wings, fried chicken, and fried pork chops.
However, it is the fish that put the man on the market as Georgetown County’s bona fide grits-fried-fish-and-seafood savant.
Frank McKenzie, 79, and his wife of 53 years, Judy McKenzie, 74, have been faithful patrons for nearly five years.
“When we moved down from Garden City Beach, we went exploring and found this place,” Judy McKenzie said. “We come to eat here at least once a week.”
Sometimes, they bring family along, as they recently did. No matter who is in their entourage, though, the food is constantly a key reason they venture to Lamar’s Fish and Chips.
Gene Baldwin, a widower who was married to Judy McKenzie’s sister, is a huge fan, too, and raves about the cornbread in particular.
“I have eaten some cornbread, but his cornbread is so good,” said Baldwin, an 83-year-old Murrells Inlet resident, who dined along with his 57-year-old daughter, Leslie Hewett, and in-laws. “I’m telling you, oh man, that cornbread melts in your mouth. That sure is some good cornbread.”
The fried food – flounder and shrimp – that also graced their table was golden, crispy, and devoured by all.
Customers said they also love the place because of the considerable portions and reasonable prices, including $6.99 for fish sandwiches and $9.69 for the fish and grits combo.
“His fried shrimp is the best,” Frank McKenzie said. “Everything I have tried has been good, including the pork chop special. And oh my, it is special. I like the food, and I just like him, too.”
Not to say Iszard doesn’t have enemies. Who doesn’t have an enemy or two or three or more? We all know about that green-eyed monster. Still, it’s hard to imagine that any foodie would be Iszard’s foe.
Customers who have known him for a long time and not long at all each claim he is an all-around nice guy. His smile brightens his entire face and definitely seems genuine. If you ever get an opportunity to sit down and chat with him, please take note of how his dark brown eyes gleam when he talks about cooking and treating customers with kindness and appreciation.
“I love people,” said Iszard, who resembles a younger version of Louis Gossett Jr. and also operates a food truck. “I never meet a stranger.”
His gregarious character is also typical of his staff, a pleasant mix of family members and friends.
“When you walk through the door, we are going to greet you with a smile,” he said. “We are going to serve you with a smile. We are glad to have you, and it’s going to show.”
As with many humans on this planet, time seasons us well.
Iszard started learning the ins and outs of seasoning, marinating, frying, baking, stirring, sautéing, boiling, and other culinary prerequisites before one can be deemed a heavyweight champion of cooking in the fifth grade.
That’s when he found out he favored fish. He and his youngest brother, Albert, now deceased, began working at what was then their daddy’s market, Iszard’s Fish & Oyster Market, founded in 1954.
Although by far the smallest employees, they became proficient at cleaning black bass, bream, croaker, flounder, perch, trout, and more.
Out of seven Iszard children, he was the only one not hindered in the least bit by the fishy business.
Like a fish starved enough to bite the squiggly worm, he was hooked and remained at the business until a year after graduating from Howard High School.
The ripples in his river of dreams changed when he took a hiatus from the business and served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972. While working for Uncle Sam, he journeyed to England and witnessed people enjoying fish and chips, eaten off of newspaper.
So when he returned home from his stint in the Air Force, he birthed the baby known as Lamar’s Fish & Chips.
Customers have never regretted his decision.
Lee Reed, a 50-year-old former vegetarian, has been a customer for about 40 years.
“The food stays consistent,” said Reed, a carpenter who lives in the Browns Ferry community of Georgetown County. “It always tastes the same. It’s delicious.”
Reed paused then before stating the infallible reason why numerous people will be customers of Lamar’s Fish & Chips as long as it’s in business.
“Lamar is a God-fearing man, a friend, a mentor, a father-figure, a person to help you out in times of need,” Reed said. “He’s a good person to come to if you need counseling. You need people you can talk to, to tell your problems to, in this life.”
And if they can fill your mind and stomach with soul food, you will hang on to your hope and satisfy your hunger.
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.